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My Mother Wanted It All to Be Beautiful

ISSUE:  Fall 2006

The land was for bunchgrass, for cattle
grazing against the wind—not color, not
contented gazing. She dragged hoses,

cleared and coaxed countless hours
in the patch north of the house that Dad
let her do with what she wanted to—

fight the parched air with columbine and
rows of gladiolas, violet-veined irises,
moss roses like secrets blown in from a sea

she’d never seen. By the back door, yellow-
and-carmine snapdragons leaned out from
the siding: she showed me how to pinch them

so they’d open like fierce little mouths.
Poppies craned up under the east awning
and peonies along the shadeless south burst

overnight, fireworks flung from tight-fisted,
ant-crawly buds. I didn’t know the names
of flowers or directions around the yard

she dug and tended, but I followed smells
and wild gusts that tossed my dress like
a bigger blossom, touched colors she had

brought out of the ground into light that fell
on me as well, though it didn’t enter the house
kept dim all summer, cool as possible for

coming in from driving tractor back and forth
across the blur of dusty fields beyond, where
nothing grew vivid like the roses either end

of the clothesline, taunting with velvet
and thorns. By the front walk sweet
petunia-stamens beckoned: I got scolded

for eating them, but I ate clover, too, and
gravel from the driveway, till the day
my mother tipped back on her tennis shoes

to make sense of something I was saying,
and saw dirt crusted at the corners of my lips.
I had to go in. Once my little brother came

along, it was all too much for her. The pickup
hauled in load after load of crushed rock until
not even a blade of native grass poked up,

and before we were grown, decades before
her cataracts, the place ceased to change,
except for rain or snow. Later, if I visited,

I’d pull the drapes open, but filmy inner
curtains hazed the view, deflected light
long before it came to hurt her eyes.


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