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In the patch-bright shadow of the flowering catalpa,
limbs loam-streaked from struggling with the narrow
plank & cranky barrow I kept emptying into the maws
of cedar boxes Mark was building, and stunned too
with the heat & the black flies' stinging, I found myself
once more shouting, this time at John, my youngest,
over the all-important inconsequential, when Mark,
leaning on his ten-pound sledge,
decreed there'd be no fighting in his garden.

His quip caught me by surprise. No fighting
in the garden. Off limits to all squabbles.
Fair enough. I tossed the keys to John & told him
to be careful, then turned to work again with Mark,
who knew more than me about how to build a garden
& could use the old man for his gofer.

I was willing. After all, we both wanted
garden boxes for his mother: boxes spilling over
with all those flowers a city boy can taste & see
even if he doesn't have their names by heart:
sunburst day's eye, blue bachelor button,
foxglove, pansy, pinkpurple phlox, petunia,
gladioli, iris, closebudded copper mums and roses,
stippled lilies like the yellow-orange day & magenta tiger,
indian brush aflame with brilliant tongues of fire,
gentle lamb's ear & the giant blowfish spiny purple thistle,
as well as all those whose names I never knew
or have forgotten (though somewhere they are
written down & somewhere they exist).

Sure, it was all bare black soil now. Mere promise only.
On the gentle rolling slope old moss & thorny hedges,
then the clearing of the field with one tenth hope & nine tenths
back-break toil. But she'd wanted flowers & we would
give her flowers, in handfuls flowers, from her husband
& her sons as in the mind's deep eye one could see
they would make her smile & smile & smile yet again.

At least in time. But here was Adam with a touch
of tendonitis flaring in his elbow from the lifting,
& a son about his business in the unformed garden
dreaming flowers, dreaming green thoughts
in a graygreen place he might recover with his father.
He seemed to understand that if the old man
would only stand still long enough to listen
there might be flowers for his mother everywhere.

Paul Mariani

Epitaphs for the Journey: New, Selected, and Revised Poems
Cascade Books

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