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December 29, 2020

from The Grammar of Untold Stories, by Lois Ruskai Melina

Some fifteen years later, not long after we’d moved onto our land, I turned the dirt on the south-facing side of our house into a vegetable garden with raised beds I built myself. I filled them with carefully measured proportions of topsoil, sand, compost, blood meal, and bone meal, concocting a balanced environment of calcium, phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium. I turned the mixture over and over, placing the spade into the dirt and stepping on the ledge of it, until the loam and the bone and stench were one.

When the soil was ready, I planted: basil and oregano and sage in peat pots that I started inside under ultraviolet light; sugar snap peas and red leaf lettuce early from seed; zucchini and spaghetti squash a little later; red peppers, Japanese eggplant, and finally, Roma tomato seedlings when I was certain there was no chance of frost.

For a few years, we had fresh salads, well-seasoned chicken and fish, and an August of zesty stews made with peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. But the growing season in our microclimate was too unpredictable, too short. There were too many rows of green tomatoes hanging in the garage each fall. The rich soil and the cool climate, I decided, were better suited to roses like those my mother planted wherever we lived.

Despite my own passion to reproduce the gardens of my youth, I discouraged my husband from propagating our farm with the hardwoods that reminded him of his origins—oak, maple, and hickory—trees that grow slowly, live forever, and drop richly colored leaves in the fall. I’m fond of them, too, but I didn’t want to be like the early settlers of the West who brought cuttings of their favorite Eastern plants with them, trying to make the strange open spaces of the West look familiar. I didn’t want a farmhouse that pretended it was in Ohio. When my husband showed me a small hickory tree, I placed my hands on my hips before passing judgment. “Put it behind the barn where I can’t see it,” I told him, as though it was a rusted old bicycle. He ignored me.

One day I looked out the kitchen window, across the lawn and partway into the pasture, and saw him watering the tree. We squabbled over its location for a few days until he finally looked me in the eye, and with his chin set, said, “I want to be buried on this farm, beneath a tree like the ones we had in our yard when I was growing up.” He looked away before continuing. “And I want it to be in a place where you’ll see me when you look out the window.”

My husband was in good health, but as we moved into the second half of our lives, I understood not only his thinking about his own mortality, but the desire to have a sense of continuity--to bring his past to his present and imagine it his future. When we got married, my husband left the house he had lived in since he was one year old. He’d helped plant the hickory and maple in the front yard and measured his own growth with theirs. My family moved frequently. I learned to adapt to new environments. I did not become attached to a particular house, but to the gardens my parents created wherever we settled. When my husband planted hardwood trees and I planted tomatoes and roses, we were reproducing not just vegetation, but our histories. We were thinking of heritage and legacy, of unbroken chains, in broader ways than people do when they have biological children, because we had to.

—Lois Ruskai Melina, The Grammar of Untold Stories

December 17, 2020

from The Grammar of Untold Stories, by Lois Ruskai Melina

When I fell in love with my husband I fell in love with his grandmother and with their love as thick and rich as the tomato sauce she served at every family gathering. As a boy, my husband spent Saturdays with her, and together they tore advertising circulars and old magazines into bits, tossed the colorful paper fragments into the air like confetti, and then vacuumed them up. I sucked his stories into my narrative, using his family like caulk to fill in the empty spaces where the wind whistled through mine. When his grandmother, as short and round as my own, pulled me into her softness, I didn’t want to leave.

—Lois Ruskai Melina, The Grammar of Untold Stories

December 9, 2020

from Wind on the Heath: New and Selected Poems, by Naomi Beth Wakan

Reflections While Lovemaking

I lie and watch the snowflakes
descending on the skylight as
he explores my body. I give
an occasional sigh or moan
lest he think I am not completely
with him, but most of me
is pondering on the perfect symmetry
of each flake as it falls, and
as he enters me, I switch to wonder
at the chaos of the flakes
as they become a thin sheet
of mush on the glass. I seek
for patterns in their randomness.
As we rise together in our own
peculiar symmetry, I consider
the thermodynamics that allows
the flakes to pile up more at the top end
of the skylight, and while
he groans with contentment, I
muse on the ethics of multi-tasking.

—Naomi Beth Wakan, Wind on the Heath

December 7, 2020

from Wind on the Heath: New and Selected Poems, by Naomi Beth Wakan


To reach an age when things
fall away unneeded,
as spent petals on a flower,
as Fall leaves from the tree,
as skins of summer snakes.
When Socrates passed the market stalls
he noted, “What a lot
of things I don’t need.”
Ah! that’s what I mean.