LOOKING FOR GREEN
Finding something green
in my mother’s kitchen
is easy. Look on the counter top.
It’ll be there. But wait,
I haven’t shown you around. Enter here
from the hall by the front door. Notice
the slate floor, three skylights ranging
overhead. We’ll go past the circular
stairway made of stone like an ancient
castle. Another time, we’ll run
up and down those stairs, one hand
on the cool wall, up toward the light
of the sky, or down into the basement dusk
where a lone bulb lights our way.
Next time we’ll go into the livingroom,
look out the wall of windows
across the river to the cornfield, or sit
in the worn easy chair, facing
the huge fireplace set
into a wall of stone.
We’ll admire the mantle, a boulder
so huge it took four workers to hold
while it was levered and braced into place.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today
we’re in the kitchen, seeing the outside
of the staircase, the back
of the stone wall. The rocks give texture
and shadow, windows overhead give light.
Here, as we enter the kitchen is the old
cook stove with it’s pipe rising.
If it were winter, a loaf of bread
might be warming there,
on that shelf by the firebox.
However, it’s summer now, so my mother is not
kneading dough on the counter top, flour
spread to all corners, her recipe box open,
one card leaning against the flour bin.
That is a winter scene. Today this end
of the counter is bare, wiped clean.
Notice the deep rose of the Formica, the sink
toward the far end. See the eggshell tiles
on the wall between counter top and cabinet
bottom. Notice the painted scenes randomly
interspersed. Here a woman is milking
a cow in a meadow, there a donkey
snoozes in the sun, its ears laid back
in rest. Further down a man in a straw hat
walks away from a sheath of wheat. Hours
my mother spent choosing and arranging
tiles, until the pattern was just so.
The tiles end here beneath the cabinets
with their stained wood finish. And now
we’ve reached the stove
taking up most of the wall at the far end.
It’s a long kitchen but narrow.
The yellow wall above the cabinets
helps lighten the room, ease
the foreboding stone of the opposite wall.
If you need more room turn here
by the stove and walk
into the livingroom, past the refrigerator
and freezer. Through them really,
as they face each other like sentinels
from their built-in cubbies on either side
of the doorway.
Please, before you go, say hello
to my mother.
We are, after all, here looking for green
and there it is, in her hands. Lettuce
this time. A big leafy head, fresh cut
from the garden, bright green and crinkly
edged. If she could see us she’d exclaim:
“Look, isn’t it beautiful. Have a taste.
I just picked it.”
Of course she can’t see us
for we live in different times
now. She having stopped too soon
while we must continue on our travels.
So we must be content to watch
as she washes each leaf separately
under the faucet and places it
on a towel to dry. Her hands
are rough and fresh as the lettuce.
The sun has darkened her skin, her face
is beginning to wrinkle around the eyes,
just a little, to match the gray
which has appeared so recently on her brow.
But it’s her eyes, such a surprisingly
clear blue, which hold her pleasure
in this simple task of washing
each leaf of green so recently
cut from her garden.
Here we will leave her,
in her kitchen, as she remembers
the feel of dirt crumbling
in her hands, anticipating the cool crunch
of fresh lettuce. We’ll leave quietly
so as not to break the spell. We’ll try
to return, gently as possible, to the present,
this impossible present, where only our memory
can find her.
Thanks for reading,
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