by Laura Parker Roerden
My mother used to talk about the garden she and I would plant together
in her retirement, with imperfect peonies, roses, lily of the valley, and tall stands
of irises swaying in the breeze facing the western sky of the upper pasture,
where the sunset we watched nightly could mirror the pinks and plums
as if a reflection in a pond. She died of cancer before we could plant one bulb,
her own body piecemeal through surgeries, a fragment of her once gracefully
beautiful and perfect wholeness, now turning into tiny bells of light, bells that
and closer together
until she herself turned into a pillar of light
like a stand of tall,
thin wheat rustling with seeds at sunrise
and kissed by a first frost.
For years I would throw away broken pieces of pottery—bowls cupped
once by their creator’s calloused hands, dried in open window sills and
painted in colors that spoke of the sky or sand or night: a suggestion
of a whale’s tail on a handle, glazed with a swirl of sunlight,
like a holy stone in a riverbed that had received spring’s inundation
might reveal different shades of grey at dawn. I’d watch in horror
as a mug about to be filled with morning coffee slipped from my hand
onto a granite countertop and smashed into shards,
a few pieces still large enough to remind of the beauty
light now as chaos,
as disconnection, as if prayer
could be destined for a trash heap.
The ground where the garden should stand is empty.
The patch of grass in its place speaks of what’s missing, as
if a tornado has left nothing but the suggestion of a denuded dream.
But I am slowly building a different garden with only white flowers
around the stump of a maple tree, that was felled by lightning
shortly after my mother left.
This garden is where our picnic table once held our entire family like a raft
under the largest of leafy canopies. I am also placing a path
through the garden with the broken remains of shards of pottery,
pieces that I now
keep when they shatter. I throw the fragments of art on the ground,
as if birdseed,
where they are scattered and rearranged in patterns that ask us
always to make new sense.
Over time the shards—which receive the blessings
of relentless snow and rain—
show us how sharp edges
were never meant to be permanent
Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.