FOUR POEMS FOR ELIZABETH
Feb. 1904–Sept. 1998
You always made me tea.
The love and sorrow of your life
tangible in your kitchen
as sunlight through the windows:
your husband dead, your son,
barn crumbled, pastures overgrown.
You carried the tray yourself.
Slow, but I always get there.
At the table you poured Earl Grey
from the green pot into thin cups,
gave me homemade cake, a linen napkin.
Outside, daffodils and appletrees,
irises, roses, blew wild in tangled beds.
What’s the worst thing that can happen to me,
here, alone in this house? I’ll die?
Your elegant French gesture of dismissal,
the amusement in your eyes.
One day I said had no time for tea
but you would not let me go:
Nonsense! No time!
We stood by the sink,
nibbled date cookies from a tin.
More; they’re so good.
I’ve been saving them for you.
The first stroke carried you back
to the house by the lake
where you spent seventy summers.
You laughed from the hospital bed,
your eyes open to the sky.
Waves shimmered through your ceiling.
Can you smell the water?
Can you hear the gulls?
When that last boat came to carry you away
you shrugged and smiled again.
Home or abroad, it doesn’t really matter.
There’s goodness everywhere I go.
The day you died, I was picking apples,
snapping them easy off the trees.
Above the orchard, two ravens
and a red-tailed hawk spiraled
in a kettle of rising air
and I heard your voice.
Acceptance, you said, remember.
Remember, to every thing a season.
When the harvest was over
I drove to your house alone.
Someone had raked the leaves from your garden,
piled pumpkins on the wide stone step.
Under the rippled clouds
a ragged scatter of snow geese
so high I could barely hear their call.
You’d had a sheepdog years ago
who woke you one November night.
Your husband got up to open the door,
saw the heavy falling snow.
That dog went up the hill to find the sheep.
We didn’t even know it was snowing.
She put them all in the barn,
came in, lay down like nothing had happened
Why can’t people be like that?
Pay attention to things?
I don’t leave my friends,
I told you, but I did.
Somehow, with all the miles between,
I could not find a time.
We sat one afternoon
in your cooky-scented kitchen,
looked out at the snow falling on your garden.
You began Frost’s poem about the crow
and the hemlock, and I joined in.
We laughted to know
we loved it best.
I would like one more cup of tea with you,
just one more.
(It’s been 20 years, and I still miss her.)
RALPH NADING HILL CONTEST WINNER, MARCH 31, 2004