The corn people

Held in warmth and darkness, the embryos await the light

Grow whole and plump out of the broken

Push their rumpled heads out of the night

 

The babies tremble in the springtime wind

Their tender jade hands patting at the raindrops, their bodies

Stretching slowly toward the sun

 

The children dance in line in the furrows, grow like weeds

And reach to touch hands

Their rippling arms sway above their heads as they play

 

The teenagers are robust, thick-stalked and firm

Tousle-haired, energetic, virile

Eager to be full grown, productive

 

The mature are thirsty, reach their parched hands high

A silent shriek for answers that do not come and

For the life of the young borne against their bodies, for strength

 

The fruitful stand erect, yield produce of excellence and delight

And spent, bereft, but self-respecting

Wait in silence for the end. The good seed will go on

 

The aged shrivel into themselves, pointing crooked fingers

Against the clouded evening sky

Accusing, eerie, alone

 

Held in warmth and darkness, the embryos await the light

The Grandpa plant: remembering someone I loved

If you thought that story was odd, here’s another even less explicable.


Confession: Once upon a time, I noticed a beautiful plant in a loosely monitored location. It may or may not have been the windowsill of my grandpa’s nursing home. Okay, it was. I made sure the plant was hearty enough to withstand a little pinch. I felt around in the dirt at the edge of the pot until I could extract a single root. I wrapped it in a damp napkin. Then I brought it home and planted it. (I told you before I have occasional problems with plant snitching.)

I named it the Grandpa plant until I could find out what it was really called. I love having plants that remind me of special people. I have Yvonne’s lily and Marlene’s philodendron and my mom-in-law’s Bethlehem sage and Cynthia’s spider plant and April’s creeping jenny and Aunt Rose’s oregano and the kids’ columbine and Sherry’s cilantro… and so many more. Even after I knew this one was technically “purple shamrock,” I called it “the Grandpa plant” for short. Kind of like how Robert goes by Bob.

I enjoyed it for several years, and watched it grow.

That was the story of the Grandpa plant until this spring, when I brought all my houseplants into the laundry room for their great annual shake-up – pruning, transplanting, and regrouping. I had noticed the Grandpa plant was not doing as well as I would have liked in its deep crock; it had grown better when it was cramped. I dug out all the roots (there were a surprising number of them, like mini bulbs), and placed them carefully into a smaller, shallower pot. Then I put the collection by a window – a different window, which was my big mistake.

They all died.

Every stem keeled over and bit the dust, and only one of the bulbs produced a new shoot, a baby thing of hopeful promise until it, too, collapsed.

I was horrified. I’d killed the Grandpa plant, and now it was gone.

Several weeks later, as I filled a jug of water at my laundry room sink, I saw something odd coming up in my African violet pot. You won’t believe this, but it was purple shamrock – the Grandpa plant – just two little curls of leaf, sturdy and determined.

I had not planted it there. I’d never grown purple shamrock in that pot. In the great annual shake-up strange things can happen, but this one felt like a resurrection. How did it get there? How did it survive when my careful tending did nothing for its brothers? (Don’t even think that snarky thought – you are suggesting I babied the others into an early grave?)

I watched it grow, delightedly.


Soon it had five stems or more, and one day as I looked at how the leaves of the shamrock intertwined with the leaves of the African violet, my eyes opened wide.

That violet came from my grandma.

I’d not thought of it before,
but of all my two dozen houseplants (and countless outdoor varieties)
it’s the only plant I have from
Grandpa’s
wife.

I like to think of him in heaven, and her in Ohio, and their plant starts twining together beside my sink.

Colors of spring

Confession: I always thought the true colors of spring were rainbow pastels – lilac, mint, pink, baby blue, soft yellow.

But when I went driving a week or two ago and really looked at the countryside, the colors weren’t what I expected. Rust was a big one, and chartreuse, scattered through the trees all over the hills as they pushed their new leaves. The brightest of gold, for the forsythias and daffodils and dandelions. A warm lavender blush, for the early flowering trees. Neon green in the early leaves and grasses, and blue, blue, blue for the sky.

It was shockingly beautiful.

In praise of the soybean

My dad grew edamame before it was cool. We called it by another name back then.

In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. How many were there? We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other.

img_9947-edamame

When I was an adult, I went to a posh restaurant and was surprised to find edamame on the menu; the waiter grinned when I pronounced it correctly (“Very nice. Usually nobody knows what that is”), but I was raised on it in the wilds of Minnesota and when it arrived on my plate I found they hadn’t even bothered to pinch it out of the pods, but oh it was good, packed and popping with goodness, and since then I have found it at my supermarket shelled or not; an easy choice for this girl who remembers how

img_9945-in-bag

The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other. We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. How many were there? Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood.

img_9951-plate

We called it by another name back then. My dad grew edamame before it was cool.

 

Forbidden fruit

I think of this story around this time of year, when our bushes hang heavy with berries.


Once upon a time

when I was a little girl,

we went to stay in the home of some friends in Virginia. When we arrived, our hosts showed us around and made us comfortable, in true Valley style. Then they warned us about the berries on the edge of the woods.

They look delicious, like blueberries, they said, but please don’t taste them. We think they are poisonous.

Very well, my parents agreed. Children, do you hear? Leave the berries by the woods alone.

berries_7614

I was only five years old. What do you think happened when I found myself alone?

The next thing I remember was that I stood in the open doorway of the house, looking up a flight of unfamiliar stairs at my mother. My very displeased mother.

Shari, she said. Did you eat those berries?

I hunched my shoulders and pressed my hands against the door frame. No, mom.

Shari. Look at me. I know you ate those berries; don’t lie to me.

No, mom.

Well, I got my rear end spanked for it and afterwards, I sat on the kitchen counter sniffling and eating cookie dough while our kind hostess cheered me up. It’s the only deliberate lie I remember telling in childhood.

When I was an adult, I asked my mother How were you so sure?

She said, BECAUSE YOU HAD BLUE ALL AROUND YOUR MOUTH.

So. No use blaming the world’s sins on Eve; I am an original sinner. Ate the forbidden fruit and lied about it. Didn’t even see the snake.

I wonder what died inside me?