The best thing she ever said was,
You can't make someone love you. It rolled
off her tongue like pure honey. But you can
sure make 'em hate you. I mulled that over,
wondering why she always spoke
in proverbs and prophecy. I was ten,
back when she caught me willing to sabotage myself
for a friend. She said, Sacrifice for the sheep,
not the wolf. That went over my head. Now,
twenty and tethered to no one, I visit her
whenever the pull homeward overtakes
the push of vertigo. She was a grandmother,
the neighborhood crone, a mother
when we didn't have a mother; someone
you wished didn't see everything you did
but you were secretly relieved she was keeping track.
We raise ourselves from brokenness
and then expect to be whole.
Her bright-blue sun hat catches my eye
as I step through the low, wooden gate---
the same chipping white paint, the same
tinny ding of the silver gate bell--- and I am floating,
not quite in my body, like catching a ride
ten years ago on my own clumsy shoulders.
I sit on my favorite stump and watch
the way her hands guide dahlias into perfect,
cool beds. Then, Better you should feel
the rain on your face than the mud
on your shoes.
I know she is trying to teach me
how to see the deluge coming
before it sucks me into the ground
and cements me there. What I can't tell her
is that my feet are leaden still; that they betray me
at crucial times; that my shoes have always
been muddy; that she was the one
bright light; that my path is cluttered
with yesterday's debris, stinking. She's hunched over
the soil, swallowed up by her hat,
her knotted fingers putting bulbs into the dirt
just before the storms come.
This poem may not be reproduced without the author's permission.