GEORGIA A. POPOFF
Wrested by a pitchfork from cool soil into rude midday,
the undulating belly of thick worm − a beguiling physics.
A tiny rainbow. A rare occurrence.
Under normal conditions, the paltry brown ribbing
of worm skin is moist and mundane. Under ordinary
circumstances, the sky appears merely
blue − or somber as a bottomless lake, as night.
But this is no ordinary Sunday, no predictable July.
This is the only day. Everything else is mere conjecture.
As was the worm, when all was still and it burrowed
beneath roots and intrusion. Only then did it become
obvious and isn’t that often the case with enlightenment?
A being goes about its business and wham, the earth
tumbles, a solar flare pummels the atmosphere, rain may
refuse to fall or, then, to cease. Anything could happen.
A nap may be in order. Later, after bedtime for most − but bats
and night owls − there may be splay of meteors.
Then again, merciless clouds may hinder the splendor.
And this is what separates us − our response
to the unexpected, the unacceptable. For a moment
the worm dazzled in the spotlight
before finding a small crack leading to tunnel,
dark comfort. Tonight, it is predicted
the northern sky may tremble in dance. Then again…
Many beings come to me to heal. When that is impossible
they die. I have acclimated to long, cold seasons of loss.
This noon a sparrow was inside-out frantic, trapped
in the plexiglass feeder. She was perishing, too disoriented
to find the hole she crawled through in search of breakfast.
I arrived just in time. I was not so punctual one August
when an ailing cat crawled beneath the front steps to teach me
the pungent lesson of festering. A neighbor raked
its bloated body out to bury it.
There are many graves in the backyard.
The Tomb of the Unknown Cat. An anonymous rat.
Stone slabs laid over them to keep scavengers out.
To put an end to the stench and clouds of flies.
Nearby, my two beloved cats, right under where a tree fell.
The last plug of trunk keeps them safe.
My friend says death has shaped my life more than most.
Something is dead in the yard now. I haven’t found it yet.
Is there a skeleton somewhere under leaf mulch and weeds?
I am reluctant to search for another corpse.
But I can smell it.
The garden forces clarity. Constant adaptation.
This growing season has given me ample reason to applaud.
Small reward for all that digging.
I admire the coarse seasoned lawns some neighbors tend.
The attempt to integrate new grass along the sidewalk,
green as a praying mantis, nearly as soft as baby hair.
My garden has no grass.
My garden is form and no form.
My garden is a graveyard,
Guardedly, I dry lavender, mint, mullein, and nettles
in a dark corner of the larder. My medicine is not sorcery
but I am now most cautious sharing my work at the hearth
as I craft a meal – my sole daily divination. Mistrust underpins
the stealth of my harvest, which must draw no undue attention
lest this be misconstrued as magic.
Midsummer is nigh. Heat rises in the village, a thick terror
steaming from the pot, casting a pall on the children’s faces.
The women have grown solitary and suspicious. We no longer
walk more than two together to fetch water and gossip
is but a memory. Husbands habitually prod for evidence
they believe we harbour. We hold our tongues
to not influence our own implication. I fear being
snatched from my chores and tried as a demon.
I slice blemishes from my body before someone sees them
and declares them witches’ teats. A pond lays close, just beyond
the hen coop. Moonless nights my feet whisper so softly
not even the crickets will hear, my apron laden with stones
the way I carry autumn turnips. Water prickles the skin
beneath my skirts with its cold tongue.
I hold my precious breath in the mirk as I rehearse sinking.
I resist floating like a broken twig to measure my capacity
for innocence and survival. Clinging to bottom, I count slowly
to anticipate the duration of townspeople gawking
until the velocity of boredom might beckon the heartless home.
Nearby, waves sing haunting accusations. I inch back toward
my threshold shivering, peel soggy clothes away
and return to my bed. But night is unforgiving. It cloaks
the sleeping in a rough blanket of fitful breath. I toss
like a leaf, dreaming of heavy, low-hanging fruit.
Georgia A. Popoff
Georgia A. Popoff, Syracuse, NY, is the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center Workshops Coordinator and faculty member, arts-in-education specialist, editor/book coach, former Comstock Review senior editor, coeditor of an essay anthology on Gwendolyn Brooks, and coauthor of a book on effectively teaching poetry in K-12 classrooms. Her fourth collection, Psychometry, is forthcoming from Tiger Bark Press.