Does anyone play Canasta anymore? My mother played with her suburban friends. They wore flowered dresses and sat at a table set up in the living room. Two decks of cards, ashtrays on the table while they played and smoked and joked and gossiped. They usually played in the afternoons, but sometimes in the evenings when the men, in another room, played Gin. Even though the details are different, this poem really awakened that memory for me:
My Old Aunts Play Canasta in a Snow Storm
I ride along in the backseat; the aunt who can drive
picks up each sister at her door, keeps the Pontiac
chugging in each driveway while one or the other
slips into her overshoes and steps out,
closing her door with a click, the wind
lifting the fringe of her white cotton scarf
as she comes down the sidewalk, still pulling on her
new polyester Christmas-stocking mittens.
We have no business to be out in such a storm,
she says, no business at all.
The wind takes her voice and swirls it
like snow across the windshield.
We’re on to the next house, the next aunt,
the heater blowing to beat the band.
At the last house, we play canasta,
the deuces wild even as they were in childhood,
the wind blowing through the empty apple trees,
through the shadows of bumper crops. The cards
line up under my aunts’ finger bones; eights and nines and aces
straggle and fall into place like well-behaved children.
My aunts shuffle and meld; they laugh like banshees,
as they did in that other kitchen in the 30’s that
day Margaret draped a dishtowel over her face
to answer the door. We put her up to it, they say,
laughing; we pushed her. The man—whoever he was—
drove off in a huff while they laughed ’til they hiccupped,
laughing still—I’m one of the girls laughing him down the sidewalk
and into his car, we’re rascals sure as farmyard dogs,
we’re wild card-players; the snow thickens,
the coffee boils and perks, the wind is a red trey
because, as one or the other says,
We are getting up there in the years; we’ll
have to quit sometime. But today,
deal, sister, deal.