Sorting My Father’s Books
Hard enough to leave the gardens
where he planted four kinds of sweet corn,
trying to get them to fruit. Each year
the trees throw more shade
on his fertile plans. Hard to leave
the rhododendrons he bred, dusting
pollen on stamen with an eye dropper,
watching to see what golden peach
with frothy petals might earn my mother’s
maiden name. Some surpass
the roofline, while dwarf varieties
fill wheelbarrows, spin the wind hot pink.
The cellos and trombones and tubas
he will store in the bathtub
of their Canterbury apartment, while
my mother claims in her next life,
she will marry a piccoloist.
Then there’d be room for fabric, aprons
for the church bazaar, Mason jars
of applesauce, pickles, beets, chutney,
jam. After all, eating must go on
whatever music finds a deaf ear.
The books have overwhelmed him.
Turning a few covers back, he insists
it’s all a mistake, they should have hired
a gal to live in. My mother intercedes:
who would run the tractor, weed raspberries,
sprinkle copper on the mossy front steps?
Mold is growing on the grapefruit
near the shop, a red spider toying
with the rhubarb and they can no longer
climb the ladder to clean her kitchen
windows. Already my father runs
out of breath retrieving the paper.
The infirmities of the aged are legion,
he is fond of saying, quip from my grandfather,
who lived in this same house,
who also had to leave his books.
I begin the sort, stacks teetering
on coffee table, then floor and hearth,
finally on the continental divide
of the kitchen, where all comings
and goings take place, words
travel their circuitous routes,
generations hooked on the story
of the husky, dusky forest
I will always hear my father
reading, Honey Bear in his hands.
CAROL BARRETT holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and creative writing. She coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Union Institute & University. Her books include Calling in the Bones, which won the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press, Drawing Lessons from Finishing Line Press, and Pansies, a work of creative nonfiction, from Sonder Press. Her creative work has appeared in JAMA, Poetry International, Poetry Northwest, The Women’s Review of Books, and many other venues. A former NEA Fellow in Poetry, she lives in Bend, OR.