Dale Champlin, Wimple Woman Flowers, Collage, 2021
My Mother’s African violets made our southern
exposure window a suburban jungle. Deconstructing
fish, her busy hands would bury delicate cartilage
in the potting soil.
The secret’s in the bones, she’d whisper to me, her cling-on,
while we ate lunch and I had her all to myself before my sister
came home from school.
This botanic curtain framed my life through high school.
During college the African violets were gone, damn aphids,
my mother said when I came home for Thanksgiving.
Diseased perennials, the death knell of indoor plants
for my mother. When we were old and older and lived
like gal pals in a garden apartment, I’d hold my mother’s
hand, rough as the bark of a tree. We’d walk along the paths
and admire the apartment’s hydrangeas. My mother took out
pennies from her pockets and buried them under the plants
with the toe of her sneaker and whispered to me,
there’ll be a change in color come next spring. A cane and
then a walker then winter—
I did not tell her it is science not secrets that make things true.
Review by Jared Pearce
I love the tenderness, the memory, the toughness of the imagery in this poem. I also think the trickiness of mentioning deconstruction against the poem’s final line is worth examination: it could be that the final line calls the science to which it clings into question because for the speaker it’s the secrets that, all along, have been the truest moments of her relationship with her mother. The wildness of the plants, the hoarding of the mother’s attention, the revision of houseplants, the planting of the penny, all these things rely on the secret of relating, believing, and loving that exists between the two women and which grows a sort of beauty that the absence of science in the poem can never hope to sprout.