A journal of narrative writing.
Three Gardens


My grandmother could spot spring

beauties under a curled shell of leaf

until her eyes - blue as the aqua suit 

she wore at 6 a.m. on her wartime

wedding day -  began to fail her.

On loamy days in early April 

she knighted wildflowers with the tip

of her bamboo cane - crocus,

snowdrops, the skunk cabbage, 

recoiling from its ugly name.

She tilled dusky backyard earth, 

cultivated jonquils and azaleas.  

Strands of morning glories

drooped, gold horns flared

to the hummingbird in mute  

offering. Now, an inky spot

like the center of a black-

eyed Susan blots her sight, 

propelling sun, sky, and blossom 

to the edge of her vision. The shadows

lengthen, turn like phantom hands  

around the sundial, spill

into the words carved on a brick

near the gate - Bill and Jane, married 

50 years. Her creased fingers bury tulip

bulbs in the sharp autumn soil;

small tight capsules of spring.  


Before I was born, my mother

assembled exhibits on orchids

in a windowless room  

in the basement of a Washington museum.

When my parents married

the plants came with her: a yucca  

bloomed in the corner; the cactus

- a gift from an Arizona

aunt - shot its spiny little stems 

in every direction, flaunting

gaudy orange flowers.   

The long tines of the spider plant  

teased the back of my father's head

at dinner, until one evening

he finished it off with pruning shears. 

The plants choked the window

sill, squatted on top of the television,

sloped over my father's computer 

screen. One day he tried to take some out

with the garbage; that night he slept

on the couch. Our neighbor's yard 

was a vast carpet of unadulterated

green; my mother let the dandelions

scatter over our front lawn like 

a handful of gold coins tossed

on the green felt lining

of the church collection basket. 


When I left for college my mother

foisted plants upon me, and they died,

withering in my dorm room on the radiator 

over Christmas. They dwindled

in my first apartment, suspended

in macramé holders over my one  

cooking pot, languishing in the scent

of last night's dinner. Now, my flower

beds are overgrown with mint;  

it struggles to escape the embrace

of the coiled hose. I cannot curb

the creeping mass of frosty-scented 

leaves, or imitate my grandmother's

pristine rows of hyacinth, my mother's

stately boxwood. I will carve out  

my corner of the Earth, here, at the edge

of a brick patio behind a narrow house,

pressed between two other houses 

exactly like it. Here, I plant

my grandmother's daffodil

bulbs, mailed from Indiana with  

cut-out seed catalog photographs.

My daughter, a chain of clovers

braceleting her waist, picks purple- 

tipped buds from the uprooted

shrub my mother gave me,

the one called Live-Forever.