In Pleasantview Cemetery
My child does not sleep, so I go walking with the bones of the dead. The stroller wheels click along the path, trees frame panes of light across the rows. The plots, green and even, are misnamed, trading stories for simple verse, for peace.
Granite markers shine like kitchen counters wiped clean after Sunday supper, saying, there is love here. And flowers. Their names: Sandrich, Nguyen, Bukowski.
Their dates cup like hands around a moth, a life fluttering, hidden within.
What will the dash contain for this child, cooing in his stroller, fighting sleep with tiny fists?
They live on in our hearts, and will forever. Roses for love, orb for faith. A broken branch for a life cut short. I begin to only see names that are English words: Cook. Priest. Silk. Hall. Hull. Young.
Those who left these flowers know their true histories. Homelands left. New loves, tender, larval. The birth of children. Scars of labours. Long winters of loss.
Is it disrespectful, then, to stroll here, to see in these stones a symbol of a thing, an apron splattered with grease, a stiff collar? Hall: a long corridor. Young: a child in blue sleepers, kicking, looking, awake.
There is too much in the world to miss behind closed eyes. The way the aspen leaves jangle like green coins. The ant bearing a beetle on its back. Everything with wheels: bicycle, car, garbage truck. How a bud begins, pale and smooth as an eyelid.
What will the dash contain, for he who is just beginning?
Hull: the rough hewn boat.
Silk: the worm’s breath of thread.
There was an abandoned barn in the country that your mother loved: rain-greyed, cleft by Wildwood sky. Not because shabby was chic, not because of milk crate picture frames and antiqued slates that said Free Range Children. She was the kind of woman the bus stop weirdos told life stories to, who found herself sitting in the kitchen with your girlfriends, crying into their coffee. The barn had once seen foals shudder into the world and stumble up on toothpick legs.
When you argued with your brother she heard two sides, remembered you both as small things, crying for milk. On days when you and he weren’t speaking she filled the breach like blue. She died a year before I met you. And your brother is the only one who truly knows—knows how she sits on your heart, swinging short legs that never touched the floor. She is a hole in you both, the way your pupil is a hole in your eye. But sometimes you tell me stories:
She knew a young man who wanted to be a photographer, and she encouraged his dream, coaxed it, wet and mewling in the straw. And once he became a success, he drove the Yellowhead east and photographed her barn, and brought her two prints matted in cream. Now two prints hang on two walls, one in your brother’s house, one in ours. Picture what she loved: things lost or broken, needing to be composed in the right light. Different angles of the same rough planks, a hurt so deep you’re both sure it can’t be shared.
Your brother does not remember it was the wrong barn. But this, to you, is everything. She smiled and thanked her photographer, and did not tell him his mistake. Instead she laughed and hung them in the living room, quiet diptych, loved them for the light caught through the roof’s long apertures, loved them more for their perfect blunder.
My mother says she has a brown thumb. Yet she gives me a dieffenbachia that she received when I was born. Throughout my childhood it stood in the south window and grew, leaning into light.
Other things, too, she gives me now. Chafing dishes, mason jars, a bin of tissue paper like pressed leaves. My mother’s brown thumb trembles, a naked branch. She holds the watering can with two frail hands. She should no longer climb the stairs.
In her yard I dig up two of the peony bushes. I wrote my first poems in the timbre of their perfume. I try to take one of each colour, without leaving a bald patch in the garden. Autumn green, we must guess.
She asks me not to walk on carpet vacuumed backwards for new owners. But I take two giant steps across my old room, to the window where I perched my chin when I couldn’t sleep. I planned, in case of fire, to follow the ledge to my parents’ room, to save them, before we all leapt off the garage. I taste the dusty metal of the screen, and think of winter as a verb: trees squirreling their chlorophyll, naked spines of geranium in basement boxes.
I plant the peonies beneath my baby’s window, pressing down the dirt with my own brown thumb. Next summer, if they take, their colours will surprise me one morning: pink like my son’s small tongue, white like a blossom of bone.
That poor dieffenbachia, my mother says, seeing it stoop in the corner of my dining room. She sees the stick, so like her own, that must hold it up. But at the top pale new leaves are reaching for the winter sun, its promise of green.
Jennifer Delisle is the author of The Bosun Chair, a hybrid of poetry and family memoir (NeWest Press 2017). She has a PhD in Canadian Literature and has published poetry, fiction and nonfiction in magazines and anthologies across North America.