Not every day but most days, my wife
asks me to open a jar, her arthritic hand
fleeting across mine. Pasta sauce, raspberry jam,
chunky salsa, farmhouse chutney. I ask her
if she knows people once used wax
to seal glass bottles. Behind our conversation, I hear
fruit jars clanking against plates and cutlery.
I hear wheels rutting the road from my ancestors’ wagons
as they jostle through New England, Pennsylvania,
across Ohio, Indiana. I hear crows
object to homesteaders, chipmunks scutter through leaves,
a nearly silent lizard scratch one leg before it catches
hold of a shaded axle. One of the women
shouts stop, just stop in northeastern Nebraska.
So they stop, generations
of them plowing fields, husking corn. I hear
my father ask my mother how many
tomatoes she will can this year, how many beans
she will freeze. Steam blurs the kitchen. Tomato peelings
drop into the sink. Plump flesh, grained like muscle,
slides into quart jars, one pink globe slumped against another, heaped
to the threaded glass mouths, John Landis Mason’s
favorite invention. He died broke
like most people who change our lives
for the better. Someone should have told him: renew
your patent and keep
your lizard farm secret, all those captive reptiles
making him criminal. His daughters said stop,
but he wouldn’t hear. He appreciated their colorful skin, the small
gecko’s toes, rounded as buds. Their names
pleased him—chameleon, iguana, skink—and please me too. They ate
so little, crickets or dandelion greens, and drank even less.
When the sheriff ambled into his yard
and unfolded the warrant, Mason was watching a wood lizard
tongue mist from the underside of chicory.
He wouldn’t have predicted
children would twist caps
on his jars after they’d captured
lightning bugs, pollywogs, garter snakes, so many creatures
inadvertently killed. But last night
when I opened a bottle of ginger ale, its fizz
misted my hands, sweetening the entire kitchen.
I wondered which of my relatives
first felt carbonation in their mouths
or took ice cubes for granted.
I’d never thought enough about sealed jars,
their threaded mouths, to praise the threads’ creator
who made it possible for me
to perform this small delightful favor.
Lynn Domina is the author of two collections of poetry, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence, and the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, The New England Review, and many other periodicals and anthologies. She is the Creative Writing Editor of The Other Journal and currently serves as Head of the English Department at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan.