She gathered walnuts in June
on hot, clear days, when the nuts
were tender enough to pierce with a safety pin.
She soaked them in salt water
and baked them in the sun
until they turned black, wiped them dry,
and filled canning jars with vinegar, brown sugar,
cloves, peppercorns, and cassia buds.
She sealed the jars, carried them down
to the cellar, her knees nearly buckling
beneath the weight of walnuts,
then climbed the stairs back to the kitchen
and made sweet pickled pears
cooked in boiling water, soaked
in vinegar and sugar, cloves and cinnamon.
She pickled nasturtium seeds,
packed them in empty perfume bottles,
drenched them in vinegar —
little capers that impressed her friends
when she sprinkled them on chicken.
She pickled everything —
autumn leaves, peony blossoms,
hair pins, playbills, extra buttons,
letters from her mother —
all of these things preserved,
lined up in clear jars
on warped cellar shelves.
She loved the way the peaches glowed
when she pulled the chain
swinging beneath the light bulb,
loved the neat rows of specimens,
like screws at the hardware store.
On snowy afternoons in late December,
she cut out calendar squares
of days she wanted to save,
dropped them like wishes in a
wide-lipped Mason jar,
drowned them in vinegar,
sealed them in the sweet brine