One of my grandmothers, Grandma Shirley, has been on my mind recently. Maybe because last week, when I was cleaning, I found her wedding ring in my jewelry collection. I used to wear it everyday until one of the turquoise stones, set flat into hand-molded silver, began to chip.
Grandma Shirley died in 2001, when I was nine years old. I remember it being a Monday night that she died (although I don’t know if that’s true or not). On Tuesday morning, my dad shook me gently awake to tell me the news before he left for work. My mom was gone; she’d been one of my grandma’s primary caretakers at the end of her life, and she was in Inver Grove Heights, at my grandparent’s townhouse.
Because I was 9 when she died, and too young to really understand in any meaningful way what death was, I kept her death close to me, rolling it over slowly until it started to take more shape. When I was a college freshman, struggling through the poetry unit of the Creative Writing 101-type class I was taking, I wrote her a poem. In general, I make a clumsy poet, but there was something dear enough to me about this poem that I am at least willing to say I wrote it. (Interestingly enough, though, my first writing ever published was actually a crummy poem, taken by a girl power young adult journal).
I wrote this in the midst of my own fog of anxiety, and for a few months, it was a touchstone for me. A link between this and that, between someone who had loved me, and something I was still learning to understand.
In Soil My Grandmother Blessed
Before her garden became her graveyard,
frothy green carrot tops and poppies,
my grandmother husbanded, kneeling in the dirt,
rearing flowers against disease.
I joined her for a harvest,
Filling baskets with sugar peas and tiger lilies,
as sun melted her cancer eaten body.
She closed her eyes and I
fed her last harvest to the sugar snap roots.
She left a vase in the garden,
and filling it with her last calla lilies,
I drifted for a decade,
through rhubarb stalks and irises,
where I found her vase
tipped over in a windstorm.
Now I pick peas with her coaxing fingertips,
sweet as the ones she blessed herself.
Matching seeds taking root
in soil tilled by hand,
where we each scattered handfuls of her ashes
and now leave flowers in her broken vase.