Jelly Jars

by Melody McGrath

My grandfather, for years,
kept the jelly jars in the cellar,
rows and rows of them,
seeming to grow there spontaneously
like strange, unwanted polyps.
And maybe Grandfather had forgotten them,
for he seemed as puzzled as we were,
the way he picked them up and turned them over
in his gnarled hands,
examining them, rotating them curiously,
like one rotates and palms a mysteriously rotted orange.
Finally, when he came to terms with one,
he’d thrust it forward,
revealing a great, gray,
disembodied fish head,
mouth ajar in frozen, mute discomfort,
eyes filled with formaldehyde.
Another jar held tiny specimens
of unconscious, trembling butterflies, and
when we poked the glass with our stubby child fingers
their yellow wings shook with the current.
There were tarantulas and rattlesnakes and
delicate sprigs of larkspur as well,
each transfixed in a liquid eternity,
each brought before us on Grandfather’s open palm.
We never asked where his jars came from,
we only looked them over with
respectful solemnity.
After a while my grandfather,
with marvelous protocol,
would shelve his mysteries and close up again,
bidding us before him up the stairs to the kitchen.
Behind him he shut the door,
concealing in darkness a million jelly jars
full of death and destruction.