Poet's Choice: 'Watermelon in the Afternoon' by John Gallaher

By John Gallaher
Sunday, November 22, 2009

We travel from our small town near Kansas City to Austin, Texas, two or so times a year to see family, stopping in Dallas to see my wife's grandmother, who is in her 90s. We've been doing this for several years. Our children, now 7 and 3, aren't much for sitting and talking, so every visit I find myself following them up and down the halls and little courtyard of the assisted-living community in which she lives.

I'm in the habit of keeping a small 3x5 notebook with me, and while we were walking on one recent visit, I wrote down the opening sentence of what became this poem. The rest of the poem came about quickly, as a fairly straight report of that visit and my attempt to think along with it while my kids and I wandered the halls. We were there on a day they were cleaning out one of the rooms near the main lobby. It was summer, and there was watermelon.

Writing the poem was something of a challenge for me, as I had never written a poem opening with the image of grandmothers before, and I wasn't sure how the tone was going to work. In fact, I can't think of another poem of mine that even has the word "grandmother" in it. I'm sure there must be one. I have several with watermelons in them.

(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)

Watermelon in the Afternoon

Several grandmothers are in a half-circle

eating watermelon from plastic cups.


Let us not forget to act differently.

Let us not forget

to start the music, to play the music loud.


And stir the chairs as they empty.

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