Poetry Sunday: “At the Corner Store,” by Lesley Valdes

At the Corner Store

Strawberries alone in an egg-shaped glass and each
the same squat size, and I thought of hearts
suspended. In the syrup you could see the pinprick pores.

He took me to the fields when I was nine. Rows of low blooming ovals
perched under green. He must have remembered they were my favorite,
that they bloomed my birthday month. I remember him in another row

calling to slow down (how often he told me that) to leave some for someone else.
Scratch of earth, mess of knees, gobbling bounty under a sticky sun.
Mother later to scold about the rash. Calamine.

A day to ourselves, and nothing of what was said father-to-daughter-
to-father on the long drive home but he wasn’t a talker,
you felt the words. Only once in the car

When your time’s up,it’s up, he said. I must have asked about the war. I was newly married then.
We didn’t know he was sick. How calm he was, deliberate, everything a soft adagio
except the cancer that quick year time suspended.


First published in The Boiler Journal.

Listen to the poet reading this poem here.

To see other work by this author, visit these links: “Clewiston,” and “Miami.”


Lesley Valdes has spent most of her life surrounded by music that she has tried to express in words. Born in Tampa, Florida, she was raised in Miami, where her father, a pianist and bandleader, played the Miami Beach hotels. A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, she taught piano for nine years and spent the next twenty-five years as a classical music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News, and Temple University’s WRTI-FM. She has contributed commentaries and features to NPR, served as music advisor for the PBS documentary Landowska: Uncommon Visionaryuntil it closed in 2016, and led creative nonfiction workshops at the MuseHouse Center in Philadelphia. Valdes has been awarded fellowships and grants from National Arts Journalism Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts,  UNC Chapel Hill, the Institute Ramon Llull (Barcelona), the New York Institute for Writers, and the Friends of Writers’ Larry Levis Fund for Warren Wilson College, where she received her MFA in 2015. Her poetry has appeared in journals including American Poetry Review, Philadelphia Poets, Shadowgraph, The Curator, and Innisfree Poetry Journal, andshe is working on her first collection,The Starlight Room. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, and elsewhere. She enjoys practicing Chopin and Scarlatti almost as much as walks with her rescue dog.


Poet’s Note

South Philly, where I live now, abounds in corner stores. My paternal grandfather, a butcher, kept one, so there’s an element of nostalgia, but mostly I think these shops evoke the pleasures of the unexpected. Needing a jar of capers, I came home with strawberries. I’d never seen them bottled or in an ovoid glass. They were beautiful and somewhat forlorn standing apart on a condiments shelf. They are still beautiful two years later in the fridge. Surprise can trigger pain as well as delight, of course. Until the last stanza, I’d no idea the poem was traveling to the sorrow of my father’s early and swift death. I am hardly the only poet to think she is always writing her father, yet still am surprised when this happens. Well before the strawberries incident, a stack of sugarcane at a Mexican grocer’s prompted “Clewiston,” the first of several father poems in a collection whose title, The Starlight Room, also references Dad. I think of the late Tony Hoagland’s exclamatory “Are you stillwriting about your father?” and laugh.

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