Elegy, Surrounded by Seven Trees

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

     for Michele Antoinette Pray-Griffiths

Ordinary days deliver joy easily
again & I can't take it. If I could tell you
how her eyes laughed or describe
the rage of her suffering, I must
admit that lately my memories
are sometimes like a color
warping in my blue mind.
Metal abandoned in rain.

My mother will not move.

Which is to say that
sometimes the true color of
her casket jumps from my head
like something burnt down
in the genesis of a struck flame.
Which is to say that I miss
the mind I had when I had
my mother. I own what is yet.
Which means I am already
holding my own absence
in faith. I still carry a faded slip of paper
where she once wrote a word
with a pencil & crossed it out.

From tree to tree, around her grave
I have walked, & turned back
if only to remind myself
that there are some kinds of
peace, which will not be
moved. How awful to have such
wonder. The final way wonder itself
opened beneath my mother's face
at the last moment. As if she was
a small girl kneeling in a puddle
& looking at her face for the first time,
her fingers gripping the loud,
wet rim of the universe.

More by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Verguenza

Woman, I wish I didn't know your name.  
What could you be? Silence in my house 
& the front yard where the dogwood 
wouldn't make up its mind about flowers. 
Aren't you Nature? A stem cringing, half-
shadowed beneath a torque of rain. 
I too am leaving. I too am half-spun. 
The other day near the river
I bent down & Narcissus 
turned his immaculate mouth
away, refusing to caress
my howls. Silence in the trees
all around the shotgun house & that scent
of cedar whenever I dream.
I turn the light around on the ground, 
sweeping the red mud, holding 
the light like a rattler. Like a hood of 
poison, fitted over my face. Cobra 
woman, slicked with copperhead flutes. 
I too am fleeing. My face born
in a caul of music. Bravado.
The men come into the yard 
& pull all my clothes off, 
walk me into the house, 
into my own kitchen. 
Tell me not to say
say I'm wrong.

26

Your names toll in my dreams.
I pick up tinsel in the street. A nameless god
streaks my hand with blood. I look at the lighted trees
in windows & the spindles of pine tremble
in warm rooms. The flesh of home, silent.
How quiet the bells of heaven must be, cold
with stars who cannot rhyme their brilliance
to our weapons. What rouses our lives each moment?
Nothing but life dares dying. My memory, another obituary.
My memory is a cross. Face down. A whistle in high grass.
A shadow pouring down the sill of calamity.
Your names wake me in the nearly dark hour.
The candles in our windows flicker
where your faces peer in, ask us
questions light cannot answer.

 

Related Poems

Elegy Composed in the New York Botanical Garden

Catmint—tubular, lavender, an ointment
to blur the scar, bloom the skin. My mouth has begun
the hunt for words that heal.

In the garden, I am startled by a cluster
of sun-colored petals marked, Radiation.
Piles of radiation. Orange radiation, huddled together

like families bound by a hospital-bright morning.
And behind them: a force of yuccas
called Golden Swords. A bush or mound

of sheath-like leaves sprouting from a proud center.
And isn’t that the plot?
First the radiation, then the golden sword.

I remember, incurably,
your mother. The laughter that flowered
from her lips. I’m sorry I have no good words

to honor her war. It crumbled me to watch you
overwhelmed by her face
in the daffodils outside your childhood home.