Achilles’ Shield

It’s not Achilles’ shield,

singularly struck by Hephaestus,

god-made and anger-wielded.

It’s not graven with the life of star, man, and beast upon it,

this silver-plate tea tray from the bottom shelf

of an Upstate Salvation Army,

but minted by the thousand for Penny’s or Horne’s,

meant to gather in the saucers and cookie crumbs.

It’s not Achilles’ shield, I thought,

polishing off the black,

making plain the over-flourished pattern

of dimpled scallops and fleur-de-lis.

My grandmother gave me these rags, her dish towels,

employed once to drape a thawing chicken or

corral a grandchild’s spilled spaghetti-os

now they lie crumpled and sulfurous.

My father taught me how to bother to polish,

how to own a thing – a beautiful thing!-

whose beauty didn’t lie in what it cost

(4.99)

or how someone else valued it,

(at the bottom of this stack on the bottom shelf)

but how one brushed it, or wrapped it,

or put it back just so.

My mother had just the same tea-tray, a perfect facsimile,

used to set the Christmas table

with nut horns and thumbprints.

And now another bride’s wedding gift

is mirror-bright, and has me reflective

about the life of every star,

and man,

and beast.

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