the museum of americana

a literary review

 After Reading John S. Willett’s Book of American Trivia—Poetry by Lynn Domina

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.