I wrote this poem in February of 1993. It was inspired by a bunch of grape hyacinths at a funeral home where my great-aunt lay in state. I’ve mentioned before that I live in a haunted house; one of the manifestations, for some years, was the scent of hyacinths, usually wildly out of season, which I associate with my paternal grandmother. My relationship with her wasn’t good when she was living; this poem is a memorat of such good memories as I have of her.
I have grown up to be a poet of ghosts.
Any wandering spirit can use my hand.
They speak in voices faint and dry as old parchment,
and gain the strength of life
because I listen
Last night, Gran,
the air smelled of snow.
Inside the funeral home
hyacinths haunted me,
a perfume hanging like bunches of grapes.
They brought you back from the grave
where you have lain these fourteen winters.
we walked together among hyacinths that have not bloomed
and for a little while
we forgot the wounds of generations.
The lawn sloped down toward the gravel road.
Long slabs of slate hung in ledges,
and along their rims,
as long as I can remember,
the hyacinths bloomed blue,
as soon as the wind warmed in spring.
Across the drive there was blue, too,
in the ton of anthracite you burned in the stove each winter.
The heat was intense.
You and I believed they burned anthracite in hell.
In high summer the mimosas bloomed.
Coming to the house from the front
the pink blossoms made silhouettes against the pecan trees
in the back yard.
Between the pecans was slung a swing.
I remember pretending the swing was a Spanish galleon,
its sway the roll and pitch of the Spanish Main
beneath my feet,
the creak of chains the creak and whine of ropes
singing beneath my weight as I clambered in the rigging.
The wind in the leaves snapped and whipped
as I swept southward, under full sail, against a full moon.
When the nuts fell they were full of wormholes.
Thereafter I feared my beloved galleon would sink;
the worms were boring through the hull,
and the sea became tunneled with mole excavations.
Inside the house we sat down to crochet.
Your hands moved like a machine,
your fingers blurring and twirling,
your hook flashing gold lightning through bright tangles of yarn.
My hands are slower, but no less steady.
The stitches loop and twist and cross.
I grow warm and sleepy
You are singing the tale of a burglar man
who started to rob a house,
and I chuckle in my sleep.
When I wake, these gifts remain:
laughter at the old maid and the burglar,
the witchery of bright yarns edged with black,
a Spanish galleon facing the open sea.
And this year
hyacinths blooming in the snow.
Poem copyright 1993/2010 by Fairweather Lewis.