Poetry by Sarah Etlinger: The Naming
The earliest spring sun was lemonade pale,
cool as the air but welcome and warm on our legs
still cloaked in winter pants as we sat
in the backyard to admire the chickens.
We found your son’s sock he’d thrown off
as he squished in the new mud;
we chased him around the yard so he wouldn’t go into
the street where the neighbors were all out like new buds–
washing cars, picking up branches, cleaning windows.
We laughed when he brought us half a flower he’d plucked
and crushed. You put it in my hand as if
it were the natural order of things.
Then you showed me the garden, still craggy
and weary from winter. Here are branches
of forsythia. Here is the tree we bought last year
on Mother’s Day (a cherry). Here are the crocus
beds, the daffodils (I could see their twisted stems already)
and here’s where I’d like to put hydrangeas.
–How about violets I asked
–My mother grew African violets
–There’s an embroidered picture, I said, that came
with my house.
Yes, a sign, you said, and then the little boys
were off across the street—
We stood in the driveway,
not touching. I saw a sprig
of pussy willows behind your head;
we heard the ducks and crows calling,
the evening light bending between us–
as if nature needed to even out winter’s edges.
When I left the driveway you didn’t turn
to look back at me, didn’t wave or smile,
even though I kept waiting, looking back.
I only saw the open garage door, then the mailbox,
then you—gathering your mail, your now bare feet
hobbling along the gravel. You’d bring it in,
I knew, set it on the table, make neat piles.
I saw the sun wink in my rearview mirror.
It snowed the next day.
maybe we only get one perfect day
with light as fresh and new
as your smile, as the earth in March
a day I will keep walking into
the way we walked your yard, pointing
and naming the growing things, the things
with potential, the things that could be.