Jean Preston
Kenosha Poet Laureate, 2013-2015

Apple Salad

When your second mother-in-law dies,
you comfort you husband. You feel sad
and a little relieved – she was 97, and
had not known your name for years.
You take charge, make calls, pour
over photos for the memory boards.
The service is sweet with flowers
and the people she loved, the family
gathering after for food and favorite
stories – how she’d painted everything
(even the outhouse) pink, how her baked
spaghetti and famous banana pudding
will be missed. You feel her absence
for a while – your Sundays strangely
empty without those visits after church.
And then, it’s just what it is –
her presence gone beyond the day to day.

But, when your first mother-in-law dies
(years after the second, and many years
after her son divorced you), you have no
role. Your children, her grandchildren,
make the calls, console your ex-husband,
plan and share her sweet service in a distant
state. You smile to hear your photo appeared
on her memory board, and your own memories
surprise you – the sound the train made passing
on the tracks behind her house at midnight.
Her aromatic anise cookies, aged in old
Christmas tins. The strength of her rod-straight
back at the funerals of her daughter and her husband.
The day she showed you how to make her apple
salad (the day you knew that you belonged).

And, how you had to learn to let her go,
to let her family go, to let her son
go. And nothing to do now but send your
heartfelt sympathy to the man you used to love,
make a batch of apple salad, write a poem.