Season of Ceremony

When I pull my brown cotton gloves on, I know what close work lies ahead. Our small decorative gardens are a confusion of weeds and flowers, waiting for my careful pincher technique—to lift, separate, and pull in one clean motion without disturbing what must be left behind. Like promises, perennials are kept when the wild is nipped tenderly and tossed into a wheelbarrow. Still, I know this sleight of hand can be dangerous and far from satisfying.


I keep a wooden Madonna on my kitchen window ledge. Every May, I pick a small bouquet of lilies of the valley and place the bud vase next to her to honor my mother who made this same gesture her ritual. I say the prayer I learned in childhood, Oh Mary, I give thee the lily of my heart; be thou its guardian forever; and think that this is immaculate, even when everything else in the kitchen is a mess.


Every spring, I tell my husband about my grandma’s garden on Curlew Street. Every inch of her back yard was a lush green, full of sunlight and fragrant pink and white roses bigger than a baby’s fist. Long wooden planks boxed her vegetables that grew famously on the vertical. Tomatoes, fava beans, zucchini—all started from seeds from the year before. I remember following her short shadow on the wooden planks, careful not to misstep. She wore black rubber boots and let the water from her hose spray in a high arc over the high tangle of vines. I remember seeing a rainbow in that fine beaded rinse and thought she was magic—the way she nodded at me to do the same.


Another month of May, I sit on our weather-beaten porch and map out our vegetable gardens. All the seeds are started in plastic trays and have been moved outside. Our cat Carmelita thinks the tray that holds the broccoli is the perfect patch of green to sleep on. When I tell her to get down, she protests with her achy quit-bothering-me—Ehh. She looks over her shoulder to see if I really mean get down. I stare back at her until she leaps in slow motion, without knocking anything over, and settles like a turban snail under the rose bushes. This is ownership. The cats were here before we were.


We’ve lived on Ma’s Cow (Moscow) Road for over twenty-five years. The highway department came today to take away the brush pile that we’ve stacked for three weeks straight. We’re cleaning up, half-wondering if this is the beginning of the end. It’s cold this spring; yet, apple blossoms are fragrant and lasting. Whenever the May sun heats up, the bees wake from their slumber and begin again.


Standing in the still soggy garden, I sink in doubt. Soon we will be turning over the earth, exposing whatever has been hidden for a hundred years. We’ll look at the rubble of past lives, chunks of stone pottery and blue glass, and wonder who will find our lives when we leave for a new start.


Beyond the storm cellar door, lilacs bloom. No time for mourning, we’re still here.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Wild Quarterly.

M. J. Iuppa is the Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program and Lecturer in Creative Writing at St. John Fisher College, and since 2000, a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing at The College at Brockport. Since 1986, she has been a teaching artist, working with students, K-12, in Rochester, NY, and the surrounding area. She has three full-length poetry collections, most recently Small Worlds Floating (2016), as well as Within Reach (2010), both from Cherry Grove Collections, Night Traveler (Foothills Publishing, 2003), and 5 chapbooks. She lives on a small farm in Hamlin, NY.

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