Shelling Peas
by Penny Harter

     for my mother

We’re shelling peas, gently rocking on the swing
that hangs on chains from the roof of the porch
at my grandparents’ house.

I’m four years old, wedged between Mother and Nana,
Singing as we swing, I balance a metal pot on my knees
as peas rattle into it from their nimble hands.

Newly picked from the garden out back, the pods are still
warm from the sun. I take pleasure in the sudden give
along each seam, the stream of peas into my waiting palm.

Now and then I eat a handful, sweet-bitter on my tongue,
savoring their rawness, the scent of earth, the mystery
of taste revealed as I crunch their hard round bodies.

Feet not touching the floor, eyes even with the latticework
under the porch railing, I sway and dream in the shifting
light and shade of a long summer afternoon.

The owl and the pussycat went to sea / in a beautiful pea-green boat,
my mother recites to me at bedtime, her weight on the side of my bed,
her voice almost chanting this poem she has loved since childhood.

A blessing in my mouth, those pale, hard peas, which I taste
even now as I chew on this memory, hungry for a pea-green boat
I might go out to sea in, trawling for light among the watery stars.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author as a child in Staten Island, New York.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem combines several memories of time spent at my grandparents’ house in South Orange, New Jersey, in the mid-1940s. I loved swinging on the porch swing on those long afternoons when my family and I would visit for a summer weekend. I also was fascinated (and still am) at the mystery of peas growing out of the dirt in grandmother’s garden, and the shared fun of popping them out of their pods with my mother and Nana. I also remember my mother tucking me into the double bed in one of the three upstairs bedrooms, and reading that poem to me. It was one of her favorites . . . along with Wyncken, Blynken, and Nod.

11/16/12---in my study

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penny Harter is published widely in journals and anthologies. Recent books include The Resonance Around Us (2013); the prizewinning One Bowl (e-chapbook, 2012); Recycling Starlight (2010); and The Night Marsh (2008). She was a featured reader at the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival, and has won three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts; the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America; and two fellowships from from VCCA (January 2011 and March 2015). She lives in the South Jersey shore area and works for the NJSCA as a visiting poet in the schools.Visit her at and