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Shelling Peas
Penny Harter


for my mother

We’re shelling peas, gently rocking on the swing
that hangs on chains from the roof of the porch
at my grandparents’ house.

I’m four years old, wedged between Mother and Nana.
Singing as we swing, I balance a metal pot on my knees
as peas rattle into it from their nimble hands.

Newly picked from the garden out back, the pods are still
warm from the sun. I take pleasure in the sudden give
along each seam, the stream of peas into my waiting palm.

Now and then I eat a handful, sweet-bitter on my tongue,
savoring their rawness, the scent of earth, the mystery
of taste revealed as I crunch their hard round bodies.

Feet not touching the floor, eyes even with the lattice-work
under the porch railing, I sway and dream in the shifting
light and shade of a long summer afternoon.

The owl and the pussycat went to sea / in a beautiful pea-green boat,
my mother recites to me at bedtime, her weight on the side of my bed,
her voice almost chanting this poem she has loved since childhood.

A blessing in my mouth, those pale, hard peas, which I taste
even now as I chew on this memory, hungry for a pea-green boat
I might go out to sea in, trawling for light among the watery stars.

© by Penny Harter.
Used with the author’s permission.

Penny Harter is a poet and teacher whose work appears in many print and online journals and anthologies. She has received fellowships from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She also received the William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award, and was invited to read at the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. After her husband's death in October, 2008, Penny moved to the South Jersey shore area to be near her daughter and family. She has many collections of poetry in print; her most recent books are a children's alphabestiary, The Beastie Book, and Recycling Starlight, a chapbook of poems reflecting her grief during the eighteen months following her husband’s death. With her late husband, William J. Higginson, Penny co-authored The Haiku Handbook, reprinted last year in a special 25th anniversary edition. Learn more about Penny here.

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Posted 02/04/2015 04:40 AM

Posted 01/20/2015 06:01 AM
Finally registered on site so I can respond here. Thanks to all of you for your kind responses to my poem.Your words warm my heart.
Posted 08/08/2011 09:00 PM
Oh Penny yes! I too sat on a swing shelling peas with my grandmother and it is a delicious memory. Thank you for this poem. LST
Posted 05/09/2011 07:09 AM
Ginny C.:
Lovely ending
Posted 05/08/2011 11:25 AM
Strong work, dedicated well for Mother's Day, that leaves the porch swing only to hear her mother's voice reading to her.
Posted 05/08/2011 11:08 AM
Beautiful, Penny. Happy Mothers Day from an old friend
Posted 05/08/2011 10:01 AM
Absolute magic!
Posted 05/08/2011 09:49 AM
It does bring back warm memories--only I was usually stringing beans instead of shelling peas. Thank you for helping start my Mother's Day out right.
Posted 05/08/2011 07:55 AM
nancy scott:
I love the poem. Happy Mother's Day.
Posted 05/08/2011 06:47 AM
What a lovely poem! I especially enjoyed the last stanza.
Posted 05/08/2011 06:20 AM

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