We called the pantry in the alcove
off the big kitchen
“the cooler,” which is another name for prison.
The jellies in their ruby dresses, incarcerated
next to a sideboard lined with bottles
of gift port wine, lead chokered,
that nobody drank. I would have
had I been able to locate a corkscrew
and figure out how to use it.
Instead, I’d take a jar of jelly down
from its worn pine shelf
and hold it up to the light as though
I were a judge at a fair. We never entered fairs.
We weren’t that kind of people.
We were city people with a backyard tree.
After boiling the plums, we hung the pulp
in cheesecloth bags from the knobs
of cupboard doors, where it drip-dripped
with a pond sound into mixing bowls,
its blood gathering over several days.
Then we tossed the flesh, boiling the juice
with pectin and sugar. The skins gave the jelly
its color, but were too tough for jam––
and we weren’t jam people anyway.