Kirsten Casey: Ode to Donation Day
Members of Grass Valley Ladies Relief Society shared the gift of a poem written by Kirsten Casey, poet laureate of Nevada County for 2021.
What We Carry, An Ode to the Donation Day Parade
More than a century ago, the first pair
of hands in the parade have 10
small fingertips, red from the winter cold.
Each little fingernail displays
a miniature waning moon, the lunula. And
every luminous possibility seems
within her grasp. It is hard for her to hold
the potato close enough, wrapped in thin paper,
protected like a baby. Knowing
its preciousness, that when combined
with what other marchers hold, somehow
this simple potato is a sign of relief.
There are so many bare hands
on this December morning. The teacher
holds both of hers out. There is ink
under her nails, she has forgotten her gloves.
She clutches the hand of a small boy wielding a stick
of wood, while her other hand reaches down
to pull a child’s shoe from the mud, as it wedges
in the wagon rut puddles. The children laugh
at this, and their warm breath in the frigid air
is better than smoke from the wood burning stove,
tangible and fleeting, their short bursts of warmth
sustain this procession, fuel it. The trumpeter
pushes down on his instrument’s valves
with light precision, and his exhaled air transforms
into metallic, bright melodies. Loud, golden
sounds escape from the horn’s brass bell; his song
carries along crowded Mill Street and rises,
threading itself through the morning clouds. This song echoes
in the hearts of the marchers, who hum along.
Then the merchants pour out from under their shop awnings,
waving hardworking hands, revealing their own palms,
the topographical maps of callouses and slivers,
undeterred and sturdy, bearing fifty and hundred pound
sack cloth bags of sugar and flour, piles
of wool blankets, loaves of bread, apples, coffee,
soap, salt, rice, molasses, and cord wood to share.
Every item is accounted for later, in a classroom
at the Lincoln School, sorted by many pairs of
industrious hands, belonging to a committee of women,
who push up their sleeves, passing donations into boxes,
ensuring no one is forgotten. These hands
are not afraid of dirt, they have gardened
and sewn, have written letters of gratitude,
have taken minutes at meetings; steady hands that hold
their neighbors’ when the mines fail,
during the Great Depression’s devastation, and the losses
of the World Wars. Discreetly, these hands pay the bills
for nurses and funerals, fabric
and false teeth, hospital patient
birthday celebrations, dental clinics
and prosthetic limbs. The parade continues
beyond the street, even after the marching ends.
With these many sets of hands, whatever is needed
will be delivered. Whatever is too heavy
to be carried by one, can be lifted
by many. And in the end, if we need to,
we will carry each other.
Kirsten Casey is the current Nevada County poet laureate. She is an active member of California Poets in the Schools, and her collection of poetry, “Ex Vivo: Out of the Living Body,” was publishing by Hip Pocket Press in 2012. If you are interested in her work and upcoming community events, visit kirstencasey.com.
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