Days of Grass by Catherine Chandler

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

(Psalm 103:15-16)

  1. Sanguinaria canadensis

Long ago you married an English settler

who had come to live in Lenapehoking.

Was your clan the Turtle, the Wolf, the Turkey?

He called you Sarah.

When he saw you down by the river, was your

long black braid entwined with a length of snakeskin?

Did you wear a necklace of shell and feather,

earrings of bear claw?

Did you speak Unami or Munsee? Did you

forage in the fields and the woods for berries?

Did you play Pahsahëman with your sisters?

Did you have brothers?

Did you sing and dance to the bird-bone whistle,

cheeks and ears bright red with the sap of bloodroot?

Nuhëmati, all I can do is gather,

harvesting nothing.

  1. Silene stellata

 

 

The de rigueur engagement photograph

is dated nineteen ten. In sepia tones

my mother’s mother, eighteen, dressed in lace

and linen, stands with hands behind her back.

A dark curl loosens from her Gibson Girl.

She wears a put-on smile, a cameo pin,

a sidelong glance. Her bold, defiant chin

is all I recognize of Granny here—

no slippers cut for corns, no sagging shifts

and flowered aprons, toothless gums; no grim

grass widow. As I scrutinize her pose

I well believe the story handed down—

the day when she dumped dinner on his head,

taming that wayward scallywag she wed.

iii.        Collinsia parviflora

 

Each one was Sister Mary plus a name
belonging to a saint, like Agnes and
Cornelius, their guimpe and coif a frame
for crease-browed faces. They would reprimand
us for the least divergence from the path
of righteousness—a petty schoolyard schism
or lace-edged collar would incur their wrath:
a pop quiz on the Baltimore catechism.

But Sister Mary Jeanne, who taught third grade,
was sweet and kind, and thought it not egregious
for chestnut curls to fly loose from a braid.
She spared the rod, unlike Mary Regis.
We learned our lessons but she let us dream.

That year we fashioned butter out of cream.

  1. Nabalus serpentarius

 

Historically, asters, when placed upon the graves of French soldiers, were meant to represent a reversal of the outcome of their battles. Earthgall is a member of the aster family.

www.flowerinfo.org

Two Thomases, a father and his son,

lie in a cemetery on a hill

that overlooks the Susquehanna. One,

a gunner with a young man’s iron will

to live, bailed from his doomed B-24,

endured Camp Shumen’s beatings, moldy bread,

survivor guilt, the aftershocks of war,

a rough divorce; yet worse times lay ahead.

The Army CNO. The folded flag.

The Valium.The oceans of Jim Beam.

The names imprinted on a metal tag.

The little boy in the recurrent dream.

No second chance for them, no saving grace,

though earthgall snakes across their resting place.

  1. Cornus sericea

 

We have the last appointment of the day.

That’s how it’s done—

they don’t want anyone

to see the dog they’ll have to put away,

hear muffled sobs, feel ill at ease,

fearing a transmissible disease.

For days she wouldn’t touch her food or water.

Nearly fifteen,

there was so much she’d seen—

the previous summer’s turmoil when my daughter

had nearly died, then father had.

Night terrors when I thought I might go mad.

But mostly good times. As the years stacked up,

I failed to multiply

by seven. In my mind’s eye

she would always be the playful pup

who barked at birds, chased squirrels, scratched the dirt

and loved to nip the edges of my skirt.

She lies on the examination table

in this white room,

a steadfast friend with whom

I had entrusted secrets. Are you able

to stay?  I nod. He shaves a spot,

inserts a catheter. Before the shot

of pentobarbital, a sedative.

She sees me. Knows.

And as her brown eyes close,

I wonder if I’m able to forgive

myself for ever thinking she

was just a dog. This vital part of me.

  1. Prunella vulgaris

 

Bring me a blossom of heal-all

and I’ll make a warm poultice with spit;

if you’re bruised, burnt or cut

or been kicked in the butt,

you’ll be cured, and it won’t hurt a bit.

Bring me a bucket of heal-all

and I’ll boil a medicinal brew;

then after one sip

your every guilt trip

will depart without hullabaloo.

Bring me a basket of heal-all

and I’ll dry it and grind it to dust;

wherever I sprinkle,

each wobble and wrinkle

will vanish and leave you robust.

Bring me a barn loft of heal-all

and up with my heartbreak I’ll climb;

I won’t drink it or eat it

because, though I need it,

my wounds want the heal-all of time.

vii.       Taraxacum officinale

 

Love is like the lion’s tooth. (from “Crazy Jane

Grown Old Looks at the Dancers” —Willian Butler Yeats)

Jane, you weren’t crazy with your link

the wild weed

when mixed with burdock proves a heady mead.

So let us drink:

Sláinte! to chicory sticks, to bitter

toxic stalks

and to the wind-borne silver clocks

where wishes flitter!

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