The Skeleton in My Grandfather’s Closet

By Peter Schmitt

Featured Art: The Print Collector by Honoré Victorin Daumier, 1857/63

hung in their bedroom
for years after he died,
my grandmother dutifully dusting
the yellowing lifesize model
from his surgical days.
Who can say

if she ever let time settle
on the stack of letters
she found from the nurse—
but she took my father with her
(he was six) from Brooklyn
to Oakland on the Zephyr,

booking so late
every berth was reserved.
The nerve of that woman,
she might’ve muttered, and How
could he bring them home?
Unsure she’d bring herself

home, or their son.
Sleeping upright was no bargain
while he roamed the observation car,
a storm out over the Rockies
lighting up the glassed-in deck
like an x-ray.

By the time the Bay
washed into view, sun burning
through fog, she saw how it was,
and penned my grandfather a letter
of her own—one he saved
only he knew where—

because it saved him.


Peter Schmitt is the author of five collections of poems, including Renewing the Vows, from David Robert Books. He has received The “Discovery” Prize, The Lavan Award from The Academy of American Poets, and The Peterkin Prize from Converse College.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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