No more than a few steps from the bottom of the stair,
on my way down the hill to get the newspaper,
in the green shoots of ribbon grass where
climbing roses had begun to bud, I saw
a white plastic label with a pointed end —
the kind they put on potted plants to name,
give preferences for full or partial sun.
This advertised a pink geranium, long gone,
covered by growth, invisible in summer
in what drought-resistant brush grew
in the high plains of the Rockies.
I knew at once the woman who lived here
just before us placed it there.
I’d found other labels
clearing the border at the front of the house:
for pansies and yellow tea roses.
They’d all perished, of course,
and only plastic labels stayed,
stubborn for her hope,
enduring the two-foot snows,
the rabbits and the deer, the desiccating cold
that sapped the moisture
from my lemon thyme and sage — but these stayed,
stubborn for her hopeful hands.
When we closed, they drove up
and showed us round.
He took a clipping from the cactus
in the living room, while she sat in the car
(she smiled weakly in the realtor’s office,
made a joke as we signed the papers;
her oxygen tank discreetly sighed).
I looked out on her calm white head
gazing through the window of the Oldsmobile
where the sage and ribbon grass grew wild,
those two months before we heard she’d died.
Even perfect eggs are made to crack,
and morning breaks so morning light gets in.
It’s true, I’ll leave, but every spring come back.
Wizards wear white beards, though yours is purple-black.
Root-bound passenger, let’s let our world spin.
Even a perfect egg is meant to crack.
Midges bite, leaves crimp, coiled cancers attack.
Heart-strung, you never sicken, never thin.
I leave, it’s true, but never turn my back.
Fires burn, pine bark beetles leave their tracks
on trees, but never touch your seagreen skin.
Even perfect eggs — aren’t they meant to crack?
We dress, clothes horses, chests full, rack on rack,
while you fix petals with a single pin.
It’s true, I leave, but never turn my back.
Stalk-bent, dead-headed, stem and flower slack,
did you tease, die, or tell me with a grin
that even perfect eggs were made to crack:
“I leave, it’s true, but every spring come back.”
Bell narcissus, bobbing on the swell of wind
that licks up the foothills, trumpets filled,
gulping lungfuls of the upslope morning.
Springing mute-lipped, one March day bowed with snow,
the next, by their deep pneumatic will, upright,
flexing, boxing air.
Still, unstill cornets who neither sing nor stop.
Soundless, December’s cellared children,
together tethered to unspeaking kin,
hand on mouth should someone hear, speaking
only through their skin.
What we know of yellow is extracted,
emetic, from their frayed and furrowed flutes.
Use this caustic color with care, she warns:
Spring brings out its fighters first, those with a thirst
for struggle. Picture tinctured spirit, too strong
for pretty idling.
Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.
There is only one life lesson,
and that is to grow things
with your own hands,
holding late April in her thin stalks,
wanting madly, deeply to grow,
needing madly, deeply to die,
to wither yellow.
The rest of it — the details,
the numbers and the lengths,
are like the magazines you read
in doctors’ waiting rooms,
idly taking what you find because it’s there,
idly leafing through but not subscribed,
the way we are subscribed
to the watery light of five o-clock,
the soft snow that fell overnight,
the deckle-edge daffodils already
bowing and browning,
subscribed to the stream that courses
through the deep ravine, raging and falling,
seeping, drying, gone
while we are summer sleeping,
subscribed to the heart-faced hyssop
and the houndstongue,
mouldering earth and bonemeal,
prom dances, promises, and handfasting,
in the humus, hen manure
and the worm castings,
cupping late April in her thin stalks,
saying our goodbyes
to the nursery newborns,
holding our new daughters
close to our chests like specters, weeping.
Lately, two black-chinned hummingbirds
have taken over the giant hyssop
we grow on the balcony —
grown for them, it’s true
and for the bumblebees that come in July,
more vulnerable despite their size.
It used to be that only the broad-tailed hummers
fed at the purple flutes of the flowers
but they are mostly gone,
chased off by these smaller bellicose birds
who fight even among themselves,
smacking their pale chests together
in the air.
When one of the old kind appeared,
its scarlet throat flashing in the sun,
our cat swatted it from the blossoms:
it died slowly,
the red on its throat fading to gray
as though it had been a pulse of life.
It is almost August now.
The horizon stretches east,
an expanse of dark plain,
and the morning gleams from the patio
like wedding china.
But it is false summer:
when I look at these new birds,
at the cat patrolling the boards,
my heart clenches in a fist.
The Yellowstone Supervolcano,
a giant magma chamber
below a caldera more or less
in the middle of the national park,
if it erupts,
would cover about a third of the U.S.
in a layer of ash, thick enough in parts
that plants would die,
fields become sterile,
the waterways of the Midwest poisoned.
The cold ash and not the hot lava
does the damage.
The Earth would cool,
skies get dark in day,
In a worst case it would be
what scientists call
an extinction level event.
But that’s the worst case:
it may never happen in our lifetimes
nor in the lives of our grandchildren.
Still, I crack open
the canvas spine of my herbarium,
position a piece of honeysuckle,
pressed for a month,
and with a thin knife
lift a leaf,
run the ball of a finger
across the wires of veins,
across each pistil thread,
Mother Ann Lee herself survived
New England’s Dark Day.
the flower had heard
that old saw of hers:
to do all your work
as though you had
a thousand years to live
and as you would
if you knew
you would die tomorrow.
If you look for them
in the pioneer cemetery
you see only the headstones
standing up in the dry grass,
worn on one side by the wind.
You don’t see them
until you are right on top:
in a tuft of grass,
a star of wax petals,
closer to the ground
than voles and unread diaries.
(Bingham Hill, like Hillsboro,
like Antioch and the rest,
is the earth’s own step-daughter.
The child in the ground
they carried on the Overland Trail,
although she was too sick to move.
When they got stuck in the mud,
near Laramie, Anna said
she could hear her sister coughing,
and then she was gone.
On Bingham Hill you still
have to walk on the dry
edge of the ditch.)
They bloom in spring
and early summer and then they sleep.
Their roots grow down in strings
among the dead.
Our memories have always been in sand:
on microchips and Bingham Hill.
When he took his son to the hospital
they said it was a cold.
The symptoms were so much like it.
He stayed up by the bed anyway,
and then the boy’s heart gave out
as the sky got white on the eastern plains.
It was still winter.
The sand lilies were sleeping.