Traveling twelve miles from Bessemer to Birmingham,
my grandparents visited us on Sunday afternoons,
sitting stiffly side by side with my parents,
until I led Grandma by the hand to my room.
The door closed, we snuggled on my bed.
I nestled in the circle of her arms,
my small hands stroking her wrinkled skin,
investigating her swollen knuckles,
the ridges of her fingernails and toenails,
the way one toe curved over another.
On her lap, my book of fairy tales.
Too young to read, I leafed through the pages,
recognizing stories by their illustrations—
Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty.
It seemed we read the stories together
for I almost knew them by heart,
could guess when to turn the page,
and helped her when she stumbled on a word.
Her funny accent twisted the vowels.
Almost sixty years later I remember
how I laughed at her pronunciation
with fervent four-year-old wisdom,
“It’s not ‘goyl,’ Grandma, it’s girl!”
Now I’ve become the old lady, playing
with my great-niece on a Sunday afternoon,
in her room, away from all the grown-ups,
with her quicksilver thoughts, her gentle touch,
a bridge across the years to my lost self.