Friday, November 9, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Is A Pantoum Always A Poem?

Think of this post as a Pantoum of sorts. You may know where you start, but you never know where you’re gonna end. Here we go…

Part I

My Grandpa Bernie and Grandma Ida, whose name really wasn’t Ida and we don’t know why, used to own a liquor store in San Pedro, across from the Todd Shipyards. After that, my Grandpa became a Cadillac brake repairman. This is such a coincidence because the Literary Journal my husband Jeff and I co-edit is San Pedro River Review. It is not named after California though, it is named after the river in Arizona. Still, Jeff spends a lot of time in his beloved San Pedro and Terminal Island. He even wrote a chapbook about it—Anthem for Pacific Avenue, published by Cowboy Buddha Publishing.

Tobi & Buick photo by Jeff
Jeff also loves old cars, Buicks and Cadillacs especially. He would have loved my Grandpa. I loved my Grandpa. He was dark-browed and handsome. I used to sit on his lap and pull his chest hair. He used to feed me bagels sent by Uncle Al in Miami, with cream cheese. Grandpa Bernie died when I was four and I’m now sixty. I still remember him. We all still remember him. I’m sorry Jeff never had a chance to meet him.

Part II

Shortly after my Grandpa died of leukemia, my family formed a charity that sponsors a researcher; right now they are funding research at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

They have one event every year – Secret Saturday. Two hundred people get on buses and go to secret places.

One year Jeff and I made a small chapbook for everyone with poems about grief and love, loss, beauty. The cover artwork was done by my Aunt, Debra Gordon. Aunt Debbie is one of Bernie and Ida’s youngest. She’s a beautiful artist (all of my book covers are either Debra’s art, or Jeff’s photography. I am a lucky, lucky poet!).

Part III

Every year Aunt Debbie and Uncle Edward make Thanksgiving for family and friends. This year they’re having 67 people.

art by Stefan Keller
One year they invited three Sumo Wrestlers we met at Secret Saturday. Deb made a HUGE pot of rice, just for them. I sat across from them. They were very young, very sweet, had no language and I loved them. I cannot begin to tell you how much they ate. They have to (I, on the other hand, have no excuse).

So there you go. It was quick, but we started with Grandpa Bernie and we’re ending (a couple weeks early) with my most heartfelt wish for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday—from my family to yours.

Please feel free to share your favorite Thanksgiving memories in the comment section below! I'd love to read them.

Note: A Pantoum is a poem. The form includes some repetition, so be sure to go back for seconds, and I’ll have an extra bite of mashed potatoes—just for you!!!!

*   *   *
Holiday Dinner
Dinner by Kehl Mack
Violets and sweet peas in small bulb-vases,
like two hands holding water, cupped
and nourishing. Tendrils gently easing
over the sides, the blooms almost
drooping with tender sweetness,
almost the same shade as candles

bought for the celebration,
blessed for the occasion.
Salt cellars tiny with their little spoons,
miniatures in hands large enough
to place entire salt licks for deer in fields
that border the farm. Pepper shakers

by every place, with two shakes worth
and no more. No one can slide their farmer-
thighs under the table but they try for the night
to match the gentle grace of the blooms,
and because it is so, they stretch for plates
full of holiday fare—

Meats redolent of fruit, baked to caramel, a meal
of decadence, wine, bread. They pray nothing
loses its way on the open-air journey
to sitting-far-back mouths, but that’s what the dog
is for, the dog who as a rule is usually locked
out back, peering in at the table like a thief.

They have said grace together, prayed individually,
caught the eye of loved ones, cringed at missteps
or a poorly-worded promise. Such is their holiday,
once a year, when the moon is high as vulnerability,
when they love with unwavering generosity,
go home with wholehearted relief.

Previously published in Homestead Review
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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. You and your family are just so - words, where are my words? I don't need them. You have Sumo Wrestlers, Bernie & Ida, Relatives with hearts and stories to tell. From your sweetie to your extended family, you, little lady, you are doing alright. Just get those health meanies under control and shine on!

  2. From your mouth to God's ears on the health stuff. And for you too. I didn't have room for the story about my aunt and Joe the Millionaire...oh my lord. They were at a Secret Saturday boxing demonstration and Joe the Millionaire had just come from judging a bikini contest. He donated his payment to our aunt had a picture of her with him on their TV for AGES!!! It might still be there - I'll look at Thanksgiving.

    Yes, my family...they are a memoir waiting to be written. I'm the boring one :-)


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