Geballe Prize Winner 2020 | Poetry, Julie Plummer

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Julie Plummer

Graduation Year: 2020

Submitted piece: “the way home”

Category: Poetry


the way home

Inspired by Helen Levitt’s photograph, c. 1940, New York

(Accession Number 2019.45.15)

three dancers, streets of New York, the

cars creaking through the rivers of asphalt.

Sunday, morning of stiff wooden pews and

the girls have been sitting too long, giddiness setting into

limbs like ice melting, spreading in the afternoon sunlight.

the oldest girl -- dress white and ironed and flying about her legs –

flings her arms around her grandfather,

clutches his stomach from behind

like she is squeezing out a sponge with her arms and he --

face tilted, arms swinging to the rhythm of this dance --

has wrinkles round his mouth like parentheses,

his curving lips the phrase inside --

child you are the brightest light in this city, treasure of my heart --

he has fixed the watches of more men than he can count,

he knows the hands are always moving too quickly,

chasing each other lap after lap

while his fingers, deft and strong, build a life within the seconds –

apartment on 74 th , the pretty girl from the flower shop with eyes

like the first leaves of spring, children

like poppies, bright and wild –

this he builds, between crystal and bezel,

crown and dial.

he is looking now at the street corner ahead,

as his granddaughter

holds him tightly, as her little sister

raises her arm high in the air, mischief

tucked between the curls of her hair --

she conducts the music to this dance.

the man who holds time between his fingers

is looking at the street corner where,

thirty years ago, a flower shop stood –

he bought a lily and the pretty girl at the register

dropped change in his hand, her pinky finger slipping

gently against his palm for the first time.

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