that you are wishing for a fig in winter.
–Epictetus (c.55 AD)
The widow’s arboretum—a wire fence
to keep out deer—guards these blonde bushes,
lute-like, wooden, harbor for the thick fruits
she tends. I have seen her walk ghost-like
down a road of dust to get the mail.
I’ve heard her swear not to take the pain pills
that sustain me these days after a surgery
whose recovery takes months, perhaps a year.
Whomever crucified my spinal cord,
a snake housed in bone, can have these bitter
words. When a blizzard kept my better
housebound, she baked cookies, stirring chocolate
chips to a fine melt. Oh f’ing fig, I said.
Oh fucking fig I said, snake-tongued, wanting
to blame addiction and depression
on my husband, the traffic, the neighbors--
on age, infirmity, disability.
Who will take this dark window and turn it
into Alice the widow or Alice in
wonderland? How re-learn how to shrink
or grow at will? My child self was once
given cakes, sweets, rivers of cinnamon
and poppy seed. Jaunty triangles
of dough cut and folded by Bubbies.
Heady fillings, honeys and nuts. New
years ripe with fetes and fasting. Now
learn: sugar equals poison, poison—decline.
Learn: sugar equals poison, poison—decline.
Stare down the mirror—a pane of glass,
a haunted gallery of imagery
where each woman takes her measure, finds
it lacking. The Boom Stick, the gray hair. Nan
saying They call them the golden years but I
call them the boring years. Shelling peas
into a colander, her eyes blank beneath
useless glasses. Once I drove her to Port
Townsend and back after going there
in the morning to attend workshops with
a famous poet. She and I. Her cane
obstreperous, a contraption.
Her cane obstreperous, a contraption
I would never have the need for—my flight
secured by greenness. My bloom a ticket
to the world. Springtide. Jejuneness. Salad
days. A swan on the wound: Char’s freedom, gone
now, no longer the gift of days or hours.
The widow grooms phlox, encircles lavender
with concentric wire, dries gifts for those in need
while I shop online for another pair
of boots. For sweaters, earrings, anything bling
to garner a bit of red from what faded.
It seemed preposterous, when young, that I
would hover and wait to pinch dough soft cheeks.
I hover and wait to pinch dough-soft cheeks.
I ruminate, obsess, repeat rituals
like the old grandmother from Poland
who wore red beads against the evil eye.
She grabbed our heads, spat on them three times
to protect us from those who would steal
our innocence. Spare me the malaise,
of my condition. Is a cripple given
to jealousy? Why feel distress when others
prosper? How return the good luck Bubba,
wearing her ruby pendants, signed over
with cabbage breath and toothless mouth, waltzing
a little. What gardener has a bad back.
The widow’s arboretum—a wire fence.
Judith Skillman is the recipient of awards from Academy of American Poets and Artist Trust. She is the author of Came Home to Winter, Deerbrook Editions, 2019. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, and Zyzzyva. Skillman is a faculty member at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Washington. Visit www.judithskillman.com