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28th Poetry Contest Winner: Barbara Knott

Image: "Psyche Opening the Golden Box" by John William Waterhouse (1903)*

New Millennium Writings

28th Literary Award for Poetry

Barbara Knott


My grandmother

Della by name

died. Her remains

besides her graveyard bones

include one of two boxwoods she planted

sixty years ago in front of a porch

big enough to hold a rocking chair

where I, a child sitting on the plank steps

learned her rock-and-spit cadence that

sometimes, in the forward motion,

sent a stream of tobacco juice

past my ear to the ground.

Neglected for forty-five years

the hard-stemmed evergreen bush stood

stubborn while house collapsed

outbuildings decayed

gardens returned to riot

unpruned shoots became old growth.

The solitary shrub takes me back

to her sanctuary of pendulum clock

and featherbed, of quilting frame

and wood stove, teacakes, apple cakes and

a small brown crockery vase

that sits now near the clock

in my own safe place.

On the porch when I was young

she let me try her snuff and laughed

like a local Baba Yaga

though not unkindly

when I threw up on the ground beside

that same boxwood bush.

In her back yard, next to the outhouse,

round black washpots stood beside

a woodpile. When rains came,

zinnia beds thrived

on compost tea that seeped

to all the roots, including mine.

I was long preoccupied

with her burial.

In dreams

I dislodged her body

from roadside layers of stone

and on my shoulders carried her home

to decaying house

watery gardens

boxwoods that marked

her place on earth

and my first hints

that a carefully pruned life lacks

what the ragged boxwood shows

(when I could tell her truth

she let me go):

some things need to grow

sometimes unchecked.

Grim attention to the tidy turning out

of wildering bush or child

prevents those long and shaggy thoughts

that shape the soul.

Copyright 2009 by Barbara Knott

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Learn more about Barbara in our "Where are they now?" past winner updates.

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*This media file, "Psyche Opening the Golden Box" by John William Waterhouse (1903), is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. Image effects have been applied.

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