Words by Franziska Lee
Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before, but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
I lived with my husband.
The plum tree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red,
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they,
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.
-William Carlos Williams
Sorrow is my own yard
She did not possess legal property until she was sixty-two years old. She’s
owned land four years now. She has to remind herself, every now and then, that
these are not her father’s grounds, nor her husband’s. These are hers and hers
alone. This makes something twinge within her, a dissonant chord she can’t quite
identify. She could not forgive herself if she were to call it pleasure, so she simply
leans back against her trees and lets a small, humming sound escape between
the militant white rows of her teeth.
She sits on the porch of her house on summer evenings, glass of
lemonade or sometimes brandy in her withered grip. Her husband built this
house with his own two hands, with the breadth of his back, with the keenness of
his eye and the steadiness of his arm. He saw no need to fence in and confine
the wild expanses of his property, at least when it came to land. It was his for
thirty-two years straight, hers for four. The dead, she tells herself, are dead.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. She drinks a glass of brandy.
Thirty-two years ago (measuring things linearly, on a traceable timeline,
helps) she stood in this very yard, autumn wind biting her face scarlet, her hands
twined around the heat of her unborn child in her belly. Her husband cried with
exhaustion and impatience, kneeling by a wooden beam, still working. Hammer
struck nail. She’d put her hand on his shoulder. Let’s go rest, she whispered.
Where? he’d asked her. Where? His blood, his sweat, the salt of his tears
soaked into the soil beneath her feet.
Through her yard she has inherited the sorrow too. His sorrow. Their
sorrow. Is it the same? Is it their own? Did he think of it as their yard? Or his?
This year’s cold fire
Last year the anniversary of his death rolled around slow and easy,
meandering across the calendar towards her like it had been invited to the party.
She bobbed her raggedy silver hair with a pair of jagged silver shears, no mirror
involved. She placed a perfumed blossom on the earth over his shriveled bones.
Her son sobbed. Her daughter didn’t show up. She put a hand over where her
heart belonged. She shivered. She downed a bottle in her oversized bed.
This year is different. This year there are shards of ice in her veins.
She is careful not to move.
On her bad days she sits in her room rocking back and forth, knees to her
chest like a small child would sit. There is a blurred snapshot of the two of them
sitting on her dresser in its gaudy frame. They both are unbearably young.
Three and a half decades. Where did it all go? The past four years have
dragged inch by bloodied inch forward. But thirty-five years slid through her body
swift and light, left her old and scarred and tired in what seemed like the span of
a moment. Thirty-five years of waking up with his warmth by her side. Thirty-five
years of his rough hands and hot breath, of making his coffee in the morning
(black, two sugars). Thirty-five years of being a dutiful wife and mother, of
ducking her head and averting her eyes. Of being cared about, of being held, of
Thirty-five years of holding a love so big it swallowed her and her not even
Masses of flowers
He planted the trees for her where their dark, marshy forest met the
verdant meadow, for he knew she loved their bark and blossoms more than any
flimsy garden plant. She remembered the day he put the seedlings there, his
rough hands in the dark loam. They were so young then, glowing with it, high on
their heady ripeness.
In the spring they would bring sandwiches and a pitcher of iced tea and a
checkered blanket, and sit on the mossy bank beneath the plum trees, her
favorite. The children danced, and he smiled, and petals fell lazily, May snowfall.
Her favorite time of year, this used to be, a prelude to summer, when there would
be sticky pink juice running down her chin and the sweetness of plums mingling
in both their mouths. Tossing cherries at each other, spitting the pits on to the
palms of their hands. The paradise he’d built for her, for them.
She always thought heartache was figurative, but the pain in her larynx
and sternum is biting and constant and very very real. The delicate frippery of
flowering trees registers at the edge of her vision.
She looks away. Her love once became her self, and now her grief takes
Today my son told me
Her son comes from the city, wanders the perimeter of his childhood home
that her legs are too weary to walk. He tells her what is happening on her lands,
of the fawns that drink from the brook and the red-capped woodpecker that nests
in the hickory. He kisses her on the cheek, tells her that she is the only woman in
his life that matters. He returns to the nest year after year, eyes and heart open,
When her other fledgling learned to fly, her daughter of sharp features and
wild ways, she never returned. Irrelevant.
You can cry, her son tells her. She turns away.
I saw trees across the meadow, he tells her. At the edge of the heavy
woods, he tells her. Trees of white flowers, he tells her.
She could tell him that she knows, that she remembers, that this is where
they picnicked in the spring when he was so small. She could tell him how he
frolicked in the dying blooms carpeting the hill. She could tell him about his
father, working in the earth, soil and grass in his hair.
Saliva bobs in her throat. Her lips sealed tight.
It was lovely, he tells her closed shoulders. Plums, right? Your favorite.
He kisses her on the cheek, presses a single white petal into her shaking
hands. Maybe he does remember, she thinks. Maybe he was reminding her.
I feel that I would like to sink
It’s a tugging feeling in the back of her brain, a whisper coiling in the cage
of her skull. Her limbs and head hang with weariness, her organs aching, her lids
heavy. She misses her cage. She misses her husband.
What does she have left? A yard of sorrow, a broken heart, a glass of
brandy, an absent daughter. The makings of a badly-written love song.
She is very tired. She would like to go to sleep. She would like to not wake
up. It will be the easiest thing she has ever done. The petals her blanket and the
marsh her bed.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. She smiles and closes her eyes.
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