A History of Handiwork – Sarah Nance

The last summer of your illness—I mean:
your last summer—you did the chores you’d
always done,
             another summer in a long line
of summers, but also this: you put things
in order, carefully.
          Carefully you navigated the yard:
the acres you’d walked for years, but now
with a cane—seeded the garden, plotted

the previous winter—filling the feeders
for birds and squirrels, cleaning the bath

for the cardinals and sparrows alike: you never
drew distinctions  /  that was for others.

On the first warm May day, you hung
the bistro lights across the patio, climbing
the ladder with such an unsteady hand
I was sure you’d fall; I tried to talk
you down.
               (Was this your last ascent

      on a ladder? Who keeps these records

for the dead?).

                   *

This was the summer we stayed inside.

                   *

When you died in August, the garden was grown
     over, inedible. My mother tore it out
that autumn, never planted it again. She sold
the house, left the patio lights, left
the shadow-shape of the garden seeded
over with grass like a gravesite.

          I’d grown seedlings that spring
in your windowsill, hoping to rear tomatoes
and cucumbers on my balcony across town;
you’d told me they wouldn’t grow there—
not enough light—and you were right
but I never told you.

That September I pulled the fruitless
plants out of their pots, tossed the stems

in the flower beds at the side of my house,

under the cracked stare of a statue
of St. Francis, holding a bird in his hand
as if to say: what you care for comes back
in one way
                   or another.

On the branch of one leggy plant was
a singular green tomato, wide as a quarter.
I put it on the windowledge above the sink
to ripen, but green it stayed, counting

the days until I left. Oh—to cut that tomato,

grown under your sight, grown with no notion
of misery or death. Wonder fruit of the time before
loss, of another summer—any summer—
of growth, not decay. Oh praise the gardener,

his hands in the dirt, his knuckles cracked
and exposed—oh praise the fruit of his hands
and the work of his week, the promises we keep
when spring comes again.

                         Praise the builder
of the garden gate, the one who watches
for deer and hares, whose feet know
the curves of this land and the tread of one
from another.
                  The work is always left
unfinished 
          but praise it anyway.
Sarah Nance

Sarah Nance’s creative and critical work has appeared in venues such as The Crab Orchard ReviewThe Los Angeles Review of Books, Literature and MedicineMuse/AFaultline, and Belletrist. She teaches writing and literature at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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