blackmail press 18
Ja'net Danielo


My mother says they crowd her dreams.
They gather inside her childhood
apartment, tread a vinyl runner stretched
from the door to the living room.

The squish of their rubber-soled shoes
fills the air with a comfortable echo
as relatives file in one after another. Aunt Josie
and Uncle Tony are first to arrive.

My grandmother greets them from the kitchen,
her voice ushered in by the bouquet
of fresh garlic and onion she sautés 
with a long, wooden spoon. It is Sunday

afternoon, June. My grandfather reads
the sports section of the paper, analyzes stats
of the day’s races. His wife apologizes for
plastic-covered furniture—it causes even the dead

discomfort. She says it’s to protect the fabric
from her grandchildren’s sticky hands.
Uncle Tony assures her the kids aren’t
coming. Still, my grandmother insists

on filling candy dishes, her arthritic fingers bent
at the knuckles from years of plucking Hershey’s kisses
from the wooden interior of a cabinet drawer.
She begins cooking again—

rounding mounds of moist breadcrumbs to perfection
between her palms, only to drop them
into a frying pan, surrender them 
to oil’s eager popping. My mother listens

for the message, Morse Code between the bubbling—
it splashes linoleum, settles inside open petals
of painted gardenias. And the voices of the dead
follow, slip into the floor’s grey background.

The dead are only heat now, held between
my mother’s ear and the pillow,
long after she wakes, and leaves them.

Ja’net Danielo was born and raised in New York. Her poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, The Paumanok Review, Rainbow Curve, and Red Rock Review, Soft Blow among others.
Ja’net teaches college composition and currently lives in Long Beach, California.