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The Fern

ISSUE:  Summer 1990
for my mother

Tent worms spun gloss in the side-yard
sycamores last April, rappelled
down the trunks on thin silks
and ate broad leaves to lace.
Now, the yard lies less in shade
than other summers, and the living
room picture window lets sun
fall on the carpet, unfiltered.

In this bright patch, my mother
has placed grandfather’s rabbit’s-foot fern.
Between the Christmas cactus and
green shine of rubber tree, the fern squats.
My mother mists it daily, snaps
off fronds gone yellow and presses
fingers to the soil in the earthenware
pot like a nurse checking pulse points
of a fevered child. She knows
travel is hard on things living and frail,
and this fern has travelled far.

Last month, it sat two states away
drinking light patterned by a sunporch
screen. Its green froth spread
like a skirt over a low, oak bench
measured, pieced and nailed by a man
now dead by his own hand.

My mother was not the one to find him,
but afterward walked with brothers and sisters
through the door of her childhood
home to sort papers and scrub
bloodstains from walls hung
with portraits and needlework.

I asked her not to go. I thought
it wrong work for a woman
whose mind has once broken
like light entering water. But she
spoke of having to, of having
failed, on her father’s last visit,
to still his trembling hands, to gather
them in hers like two white flowers.

So, now she bends daily over this
transplanted plant, the curve
of her body warmed and backlit
by light born of the new leaflessness
of old trees, ones that no one could save.


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