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Planting the Garden
Emily Strauss

Mama wanted her garden planted
just once more after the spring
rains had left fine mists floating
over the muddy river below.

She got out her straw hat, torn
when Billy left for Macon, her old
garden gloves sweated into her hands'
shapes, the wooden cane carved
from a branch of the ash that grew
behind the wash shed, and her
parasol, the one bought before
the war, its purple satin faded now
to dull gray.

We set little Edna to fanning her
with an old piece of grass mat,
her sitting in the shade of the elm
her calling out orders to us—where
to seed the beans, set the okra and
chard, mound the thick black soil
around the squash,
us sweating in the hot May sun
her like on some throne getting
herself fanned, cool water
in her glass.

Me and George worked real hard
all morning, bare hands and bare
heads, hauling water from the lawn
hose to feed the new sprouts.
Finally mama nodded, satisfied.
We came over for a break wiping
our sweat with a scrap of dish towel,
mama in her hat and gloves all tired
out now, needing to be helped to the shady
porch, proud of her new rows of tender
shoots, sitting in her cane rocker.

Mama passed in her sleep that night,
we never knew 'till hot morning
rose over those young plants,
her stiff gloves still resting on the railing,
her old hat on the steps--
us walking down with the watering
can, forgetful of the sun
looking back at the empty rocker,
willing the beans and okra to grow up
quick so we could make gumbo
for the funeral.
© by Emily Strauss.
Used with the author’s permission.

Emily Strauss has an M.A. in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college. More than 550 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the U.S. and abroad. The natural world of the American West is Emily’s usual framework; she also considers the narratives of people and places around her. Emily is a retired teacher and lives in Oregon with a small dog and a black cat.


Post New Comment:
What a way to go...hands in the soil....classy lady!
Posted 05/11/2013 09:33 AM
As I watch my mother "do her work" (with lots of ordering) to prepare for her passing, I read your poem. Brought up many tears. Thank you.
Posted 05/11/2013 09:10 AM
Sue Shanks:
Thanks muchly. This was lovely. :)
Posted 05/11/2013 06:06 AM
What a voice! What a sense of place!
Posted 05/11/2013 04:51 AM

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