Image: "Psyche Opening the Golden Box" by John William Waterhouse (1903)*
New Millennium Writings
28th Literary Award for Poetry
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
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.
I dislodged her body
from roadside layers of stone
and on my shoulders carried her home
to decaying house
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
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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*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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