Blue jeans torn in strips, knotted and loomed, now rolled before drafts or folded in closets, faded in a kitchen thirty years back where I sit with Great-Grandmother playing Aggravation, Chinese Checkers, marbles ticking over the cardboard maze. Her skin is transparent as Bible pages. She licks one finger, flips to another verse.
Shirts in primary colors come in from the fields, once thick warp and weft now a sieve. Coveralls, curtains, housedresses of dotted Swiss worn through Michigan summers. We pick up the red stain of strawberry like a ghost woven under our feet.
Her wicker basket was a bassinet for castoffs, her scissor’s mouth measuring waste not want not.
Let the treadle be similarly unrushed. Let the weft be secure from breast beam to back.
Let the sound of cloth loosed into cloth rise again when we enter the house.
Blake’s version of Eve: prayer hands slightly parted,
body arcing towards God. Her skin is the negative space
of the painting, a halo beneath the curled moon. Or
the halo emanates from God, his white gown
the brightest thing in Eden, his body a pillar
except for the arm that reaches, the thumb
relaxed as his palm pulls Eve up – And yes, the man sleeps
underneath her new feet, their limbs almost touching
but no sign of rib, no red gash in his side. She floats
like a dream or the distance between Adam’s sleep
and God’s hand, or perhaps God’s hand measures
the distance between her white brow and the moon –
Blake has not made it clear, the hierarchy, if there is
hierarchy, but even now as God’s hand
draws her up (or the moon does so), the line
of one calf suggests motion. Smallest flick
of Blake’s wrist. Between them the muscle testing
its new weight forward into world.
Vernacular gardens, by definition, are gardens of ordinary people – Ced Dolder, “Vernacular Gardens”
Ordinary as a glass of milk, a gun, a trio of stray cats that came to us from the fields. Shall I name all the flowers again? Yucca, daylily, peony, hens-and-chicks – I’m tired of listing them. Suffice it to say I watered those daylilies thirty minutes each day, pulled 500 weeds and dropped them into a Maxwell House tin, scratched each task from my childhood chore list as if I could answer the world’s demands. When we left, I followed the angels’ decree: didn’t turn back or clap, call or croon. For a long time I thought history went to the winners, and we were not them.
But then our mother’s new garden unfurled, winding and strange on a city block – the gloriosa daisies between cracks in cement, ferns lapping up the dusky shade, like hush and wonder. They tended our secrets until our secrets no longer needed tending.
It was not unusual to see bear cubs in that garden. It was not unusual
to see that garden breathe.
-- Laura Donnelly's second poetry collection, Midwest Gothic, was selected by Maggie Smith for the 2019 Snyder Prize at Ashland Poetry Press. Donnelly is also the author of Watershed (Cider Press Review Editors' Prize), and her poems have appeared in Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Harvard Review, PANK, and elsewhere. Originally from Michigan, she lives in Upstate New York and is on the creative writing faculty at SUNY Oswego.