Shredding

by Penny Jackson

Who would think 
such an ugly machine
so solid and dull
would be capable of
such violence?
The destruction of 
each page
explodes in my ears like 
a hydraulic drill.
Such steady industrious
sounds as each page
is neatly pared in 
measured clippings
like the mowed grass outside.

He has shredded them all.
The letters when he was in Korea
The letters when she was graduating high school
The letters when she though he died
And the letter
When she discovered he was alive.
All the letters my mother wrote to my father
All the letters my father wrote to my mother.
Two hundred and fifty letters.
What once were words
could now be confetti.

There is no explanation
why he bought this machine
exactly six months since my mother’s
death.
It would have been better
If my father had just gathered the letters
in a trash bag
and left them by the curb. 
Slicing them shocks me
as if a body had been
brutally mutilated.

My father walks outside
In the yard.
Stares at the freshly mowed lawn
And starts coughing.
He loved her but
Did not love what
She had become.
Dementia transforming her
Into something unrecognizable,
Not human,
Not her.

I kill
the horrendous machine
by turning off the switch button.
I wonder if I can gather
All those scraps of lined paper
Inked words
and fit them together
like a jigsaw puzzle,
but it’s hopeless.

I join my father outside
who is standing beneath
my mother’s favorite elm.
A sharp wind stirs
a charcoal cloud
into blotting out
the summer sun.
I take my father’s hand
but it shakes so
like the leaves in the tree
that now shadows our front lawn.


Penny Jackson’s work has been published in many literary journals such as The Edinburgh Review, The Croton Review, The Gideon Poetry Review, Story Quarterly, and Real Fiction. Her writing prizes include a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, The Elizabeth Janeway Prize in Fiction from Barnard College, and a Pushcart Prize. She is also a playwright and a film writer.