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Poison Grapes

By Russell Willis


Most families have inside jokes, words or phrases that mean one thing to the rest of the world but a totally different thing to those in the know. One of these in my family was "poison grapes."


If anyone was clumsy or did something embarrassing, another family member would punctuate the moment by saying "poison grapes," and everyone, including the clumsy or embarrassed one, would laugh and the tension of the moment would dissipate, at least a little.


photo by Ben White on Unsplash

"Poison grapes" is what a four-year-old Rusty heard when his great-grandmother, Granny, would remind him to act with poise and grace. Rusty had no idea what "poise" or "grace" was, but thought Granny was really silly to talk about poison grapes! And the more the adults could make Rusty laugh in glee rather than be embarrassed or uncomfortable (something that happened rather frequently!), the more "poison grapes" was established in the Willis-family lexicon.


Poison Grapes


Regardless of the mess just made

no matter which pas was fauxed

abrogating all degrees of embarrassment

“poison grapes” was the cure


Even after her voice went quiet

Granny’s ready retort to any

disaster, great or small,

was voiced thereafter by

whoever had the opportunity to

reassert the need and extol the virtues of

poise and grace


Whether toddler stumbles

or pre-school clumsiness

from the lack of pre-adolescent tact

to the full-blown version of teen ugly

“poison grapes” brought a smile

through the most clinched jaw

and realigned the world

at least for a moment


Misheard once by preschool ears

and ever after playfully and earnestly

rendered as both plea and blessing

that our lives, no matter

what the blunder, be lived with

poison grapes

© 2019 Russell E. Willis


First appeared in Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing: redemption | grace Issue, December 2019.




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