A silver hair strays
down as I bend over the iris bed.
I need no other sign that my DNA
commingles columbine and verbena,
sweat of my sweat. I spend this bittersweet
time in the garden—plague, eradication,
social distancing, isolation. Bittersweet
because May is springing forth,
and all I can do is counter
with spine and shovel, my arch
on the blade. All I can do is leverage
hellebores at the fleshy crown
overtaking lily, painted fern, a shadow
over the least of us. Lenten rose,
never mind its poison, in league with
nightshade and hemlock, small doses
said to purge the veins
of melancholy. Never mind Athenians
used it as chemical warfare, roots
corrupting the water supply of cities
besieged. I loved it anyway—meadowy
spread, early bloom and long, winter meal
for bees’ frenzy. I loved it until life itself
upended in pandemic,
saying Pay attention.
Pay attention to the lowly. Then I heard
the quiet smothering—lamb’s ear, trillium.
I freed them to sweet air, the work
I was meant for. I dug and dug, plants
to bag or pot for neighbors
stacked like cordwood,
like spoils of war and tribute, back
aching, sorry I let them go untended.
So sorry, the way we turn to see
the path strewn with bodies
and regret, the way we wash our hands
of blame, toss salt over our shoulder
for luck, wondering what on earth
has this old world come to?
Linda Parsons is the poetry editor for Madville Publishing and reviews editor for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. She coordinates WordStream, WDVX-FM’s weekly reading/performance series, with Stellasue Lee, and is copy editor for Chapter 16, the literary website of Humanities Tennessee. Widely published, her fifth poetry collection is Candescent (Iris Press, 2019).