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.
"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.
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
© 2019 Russell E. Willis
First appeared in Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing: redemption | grace Issue, December 2019.