The Empty Pot
When I’d suggested to my son that we move
the seedlings from the foyer to the corner of our lot,
I thought I was saying Goodbye in the usual,
sheepish way but, in late fall, he marched out
to the spot, arms around the pot as if he were
a giant securing a village. I love plants, but
I’ve never been able to keep one alive, I told
him as I hunted a shovel. In your first try,
you have two leafy shoots for two pumpkin seeds.
Still, studying the wind and sky, I was sure I was
setting him up for failure, a familiar lesson. After
we had patted the dirt, I hoped as I tucked him in
that the repotted plants–out of sight–would become
another discarded obsession like magic tricks.
The morning I’d tiptoed over cool dew to find one
shriveled stem, I rushed my son off to school
when he asked if he could water the plants, yet
right before Christmas, we walked out to a pumpkin
patch! When he said, Look how that one seed
split into three vines, I thought, He saw growth where
I saw death. When he pointed to the harvest
bulging under leaves the size of elephant-ears,
I’d thought, When did my dreams get so small?
Circling his garden, I stood witness to the wonder
of God’s ancient earth and an eight-year-old’s persistence.
Then last night, frost destroyed the matrix of heart-shaped
leaves and I considered the parent who flushed
the floating goldfish, its replacement in the tank
before the child noticed, but I remembered
the emperor who gave a seed to each child
in the kingdom, pledging the throne to the one
who grew the most beautiful flower: the boy who’d
brought an empty pot won because the seeds
had been baked. . . My son cried at first, stuffing frozen
pumpkin leaves into a trash bag while I tackled
tendrils woven into the grass, tiny anchors I had
trouble removing, but then, standing at the kitchen
table where we’d transported the smallest green
pumpkin–our last rescue, he brightened over
the lot, his happiness like a second sun.
With All Thy Getting
Wisdom is the principal thing
therefore, get wisdom: and with
all thy getting, get understanding.
Another house for sale down the street,
a friend of her son’s. As they turn the
corner, he cranes his head out the back
window for last signs of a boy who
is already gone. This was no military
adjustment, rumor had it, but the first
of a bitter split, the tall grass whispering
of abandonment, neglect. Wasn’t it
Thoreau who coined “clothes-horse,”
an expression to describe those who
wore clothes without the shirts or dresses
wearing them, shoulders like handlebars
on exercise bikes that no one rode, the torso
a hanger for what did not define it, no
more than flesh and cotton, user and used?
A nation sold on that transient mindset,
men and women—with a battle cry of advancing
the self—moved into and out of new cars,
houses, and families like clay figures without—
(Without what?). An endless consuming, the
churning need for newness that left you hungrier.
You’ll never do that, right? The boy’s call
puts her back in the body. It is going to storm,
she says. But we’re almost home. Fighting rain,
she runs to the yard, plucking flowers, a handful
of weeds her husband would mow down. Then,
closing out the wind, she finds the word she sought:
“Without souls.” –The flowers in a cup
sing of wild beauty indoors, choice in
the absolute, and the open end of possibility.
Sarah and Isaac
God has brought me laughter, and
(all) who hear will laugh with me.
Genesis 21: 6
As the three of us approach Toledo, we pass
what we have come to call your bridge,
a forsaken drawbridge that spans the Maumee
which stretched out before us to the horizon.
Although I knew the river had been boatless
for months, the solitude of its uneven ice floes,
jagged and heaved where the water had frozen
and thawed and refrozen, unsettles me further.
Like the rusted structure of the old railway
crossing above, it is a crude reminder of change,
the indispensable need that is outlived, a function lost.
While you are in the air, leaving to visit your birth father,
I am on edge, glad for the motion towards home—
as if we are on parallel journeys. [But we travel
separately, you and I, and we would arrive at distant
destinations.] A pair of smiling travelers passes
Dad and me, obscuring my last view of your bridge.
On their car door in a child’s hand, Merry Christmas, Aunt Kate,
is scrawled into the salt film that coats vehicles here
in winter. I look up, knowing the white line that
scars the sky is not a sign from you to me
but another plane’s vapor trail, going elsewhere.
This is practice, I tell myself, for the ways I cannot
protect you (only son, fruit of my womb),
for all of the places you will go without me.
Must go, I corrected. Out of habit, your father and
I resume the travel games of counting water towers,
saying aloud the strange names of roads like
Fangboner and Monclova. Funny how the tables
are turned, I think. You, the one who struggled
to play the alphabet game with us and whose legs
raced to keep up, are the giant now above even
the clouds, the road we drove reduced to a racetrack
that would fit in your hand. And still up, up, up
you would fly until the rectangles of roofs—entire
neighborhoods—shrank into lines as thin as string.
Your distance turning our world into miniature,
distorting known objects until they disappear.
Meanwhile, earthen-bound, what seemed
like a quick jaunt to get you to the airport slows
in our race to return home. Because time is standing
still now, I study the fences that outline farms, down
in places but repairs would have to wait until spring
out here where winter hits the hardest,
flowing fields shocked into rows of stems,
where telephone lines seem the only, tenuous
connection. Then, excited as we exit the turnpike,
I can’t help but mumble the Old Testament wisdom of,
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
As the sun sets on your first night away,
even the blacktop factory at the city limits
is made beautiful, lit up like a village in the distance,
its rises and falls softened elsewhere by darkness.
My fears (Don’t ask me that) for your safety
(Take me, instead) had subsided like water that boils
itself out, love’s run-off. I beam back at the day’s last light—
a single streak that splits the sky as if guiding your flight,
and I imagine the poetics of the world as you see it, simply:
I spy a black horse by a red barn in the white field,
and The dirty sheep eat the gold grass that pokes
out of the snow in spots. I let your vision, pure
and hopeful, shame me into re-vision, as I am too often
like those fields I stare at for comfort, numb
from the commonplace beauty that surrounds me.
–You are such a part of my days, son,
your questions the map of my musings:
Mom, how can God be jealous?
I had not realized–as I watched what I said
and did around you, ideas like roots
I was planting, as closely as I monitored
the food you ate–that you had become
my well-spring too, a source of inspiration
like water I survived on,
your voice as natural and as constant
as the heartbeat, forgotten until missed.
Rita Anderson is a published and an award-winning writer from Austin, TX. She has an MFA Poetry and an MA Playwriting. Rita was poetry editor at University of New Orleans, and both of her poetry books–The Entropy of Rocketman (Finishing Line Press,) and Watched Pots (A Lovesong to Motherhood)–have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Rita’s poetry has won several awards, and her work has appeared in almost 100 literary publications, including Spoon River Poetry Review, and Waves: A Confluence of Voices (an anthology from A Room of One’s Own AROHO Foundation). Contact Rita at her website www.rita-anderson.com