Memory of Dirt

I knew her in the long rains
that turned the soil to tobacco spit and lizard tongues.
Our feet stuck as we walked down the driveway
to the black car that waited to take us to the funeral.
Lighter than me, her slender foot escaped a boot
and I thought I heard a sob, that her sorrow was finally breaking
out, but when I looked back she was dry-eyed
staring at the muck on her hands.
It was spring when he died,
the day after I spotted a robin
pecking at the frozen ground.
It took till June, just after the child was born,
for colour to seep back to her face.
She held her baby and sang a net of rainbow fish
as the sun dropped lemons across the nursery floor.
Her eyes cast from the window to his budding mouth
to the breathing shadows of leaves on the wall.
So many summers have flowered between us.
Winter makes her lonely, she tells me on the phone,
yet I remember her skin glowing as if slicked by ice,
crows fluttering downwind in her hair.
Cold nights I watched from the doorway
as she stroked the child’s back before he slept,
his thoughts skittering across white sheets, ready to soar
to seven wild seasons beyond our adult touch.
Each year spring brings another funeral of cloud.
Rain hits her kitchen window, rattles out his name
and she mourns the man once more.
In the city, I think of the muck of that driveway,
its suck and grab
and how she struggles down it every day
to drive her car to work.

Now the child has grown, she gardens
and in my small yard, I garden, too,
digging in the pungent memory of dirt,
its rot, roots, and seed.
I recall her prairie eyes, muck-covered hands,
imagine them beside mine pulling out dead stalks
as we struggle to make way for the new.

~ Joan Crate

Joan Crate’s third poetry book, Suburban Legends, was recently released (late March 2009, actually) by Freehand Press. She lives in Calgary and Red Deer and teaches English at Red Deer College.

“I guess ‘home’ like everything else in life is fluid, changing. By definition (mine), home is a place where I am comfortable, though I’d be more comfortable in both homes if my kids would clean up after themselves more often! Nevertheless, they (including their messiness) do contribute to infusing a physical structure with emotional warmth.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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