Tea of dried flower, toothed heart-shaped leaf.
Linden for soothing, grandmother would grieve,
speaking in English, to me. I used to blame
all the family's troubles on history--
German hordes tamed a bit by philosophy,
music, and linden. Yet I never saw that tree--
until once in a friend's neighborhood,
intoxicated by fragrance, I looked up--
blossoms of thick cream, fireworks, suns!
I saw my mother some kind of blind, so tired,
so many of us, my father laid out
an angry log sunk on the davenport,
me on the hearth trying to keep warm, the other
half the heart biting, wired for life.
There is no going home
the vehicle stalls
in reverse gear
in mud tracks
as essential as
the flat fields, the blades
of shadowed pines over the drive,
the sun bleeding
from the west.
On the rise the house,
painted clapboard, the color of cream,
is rented now like bodies
of water and minerals made
living by some miracle
which is to say some process
we don't understand.
Some day we'll have a
a different lover,
pine trees and whirling wind
that primitive communion
a new testament
of each generation.
All going home is never going back--
there may be ruin and mud tracks
deep to make wheels spin. The only way
is slogging on,
or else walking
Or yet it may be dry
the sand flying in your nostrils
but you must breathe, must go, must go
on, which is to say, go on making
required visits, like stations
of a cross. It is a way
of finding what we lost
or never had, of learning we are only
renters, and making new covenants,
of going where we belong.
And you're standing, after these years, by the well,
April and you expecting like a rose
close-guarded, tight, and hard to touch. Suppose
the print of violets in your dress unveils
your secret: Father setting out to plow
the fallow ground, thinking not much would come
to interrupt the quotidian life we summed
in sheep's wool, planted fields, pregnant cows,
you stitching seamless rags to sticks to frighten crows.
And then he harrowed you, too, one red dawn,
you took it all, you said nothing of your need.
Your deft fingers fastened the able seed
like buttons on a gown already sewn.
For you are where the horned ram never goes,
never gets to in his isolated pry.
Your knowledge came on imperceptibly,
a gradual globe that holds all and knows
its issue will be born in time. And so it grows.
And you lived there with this sun child, remained
insistently from us who feared we'd starve
in sight of your smile mocking the sun's curve
that spring you carried twins and the rains
kept coming, coming. The sheep dropped their young
dead in the drowned cherry blossoms in our yard,
the seed washed out, even the dog disappeared.
You kept smiling that rain was song you'd always sung.
You kept smiling as if the rains contained the sun.
We never could believe. Later I learned
at the university to list tempests:
that these your swamps were not unlike Memphis,
where goddesses breed new life from bodies burned
by sun's intensity; our odysseys
are woven more than for ourselves: they suit
the youngest ones who are at war and mute
against the sun's dear cattle, Circe, the seas.
Still, you whelm me, the white ground, ground of your well-veiled ease.
at first I thought
o! heart shape
through the skinned
limbs of the myrtle
but it was
the eastern sun
come to swim
a red brick wall
so now the myrtle nods
of deep pink clusters
over the stairwell
where I stare
into their yard
speak to us
I rise from a wreckage of sleep
again the long blind scarf of grief
and yesterday and yesterday’s
the porch lights hiss
at the shroud-hung sky
I go down the stairs to the garden
to be where the roses are leaning
heavy and sweet on the long fence
I lift my face from burial
into burial in the softness of flowers
that is like the skin under the necks of animals
in the small white crosses
in their fire centers
the star clematis has made
and entered on
the dead espaliered pear
suddenly I am
wheep and again
wheep wheep I hear
one by one
in the trees
threads of light
undraping the roof lines
and my throat
composing the sky
Rosemary Winslow's work has appeared in 32 Poems, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Crux, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and other journals. She has received the Larry Neal Award for Poetry twice and Writer's Fellowships from the DC Commission for the Arts and The Vermont Studio Center. She teaches literature and writing at The Catholic University of America, specializing in American poetry from 1850 to the present.
Published in Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 2006.
To read more by this author:
Winslow: The Whitman Issue
Rosemary Winslow: The Wartime Issue
Winslow: Evolving City Issue
Winslow: Split This Rock Issue