I Learned to Juggle While My Grandmother Died
by Katy E. Ellis, Jr.

--for Dora Jesse Moline

I drop them for the millionth time.
A twenty-three year old girl,
I fling beanbags recklessly over the fragile
bones of my mother's figurines
lined up below Jesus on the fireplace mantle
and shout, "Watch Mom! Watch me!"
I want to show her a moving circle
how juggling is catch and throw
catch and throw,
over and over
and over.

When my dad and I used to visit his parents
in their cabin in the shadow of Tatoosh,
Grandma taught me to crochet,
to fish into the center of a skein of yarn
and pull out the beginning. One long strand
poked and hooked into afghans, hats
and sweaters of many colors.

At church I learned of a Triune God,
three in one but not one in three.
I tried to juggle them in my mind:
catch and throw, catch and throw.
First I dropped the Father
then the Son
and then the Holy Ghost.
With my hands to my sides, I fell
away from the Holy Trinity, a circle
that began before me, will end after me.

Wherever I go I unpack Bible Stories
and Sunday School Memory Work.
Jacob's ladder, Abraham's ram, gifts of gold
frankincense and myrrh lumpy in my pack,
a part of my body. I think my family suspects
I've left Jesus behind and Satan walks with me.
But everyday I juggle the three of us:
Good and Bad
and Me and Good
and Bad and Me.

When Grandma died I belted out hymns
of Jesus at her funeral. I wondered
if my dad, mom, brothers, sisters and their kids
thought I'd been converted back to them,
that I suddenly, through this death, found again
Christ's Birth and Death and Resurrection.

Now, three oranges in my hands,
I visit her grave with my mother and father.
Grandma's headstone sits on a hill near the airport,
Mount Rainier in the distance, a ghost
with outstretched arms.
Before I set them down, I juggle the oranges
in high arcs,
catch and throw,
catch and throw,
until they drop and roll away to other graves,
my father, mother and I each chasing after one.

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