Bacteria breeds in the potato bin, white
spores on the windowsill. The stove
top is lined with cold cuts, half-eaten
yogurt. Tea bags line her sink, Sweet Flag,
Burdock, Bitterroot. Her milk is outdated,
the salami petrified. Mice coagulate
at the periphery of crackers
and chips. I offer to clean
but she says, no, blocks the refrigerator
as if I am about to steal
her oranges. She worries I might
spill the milk, break the eggs.
The pantry smells like dog urine,
her own hair a disarray of tanagers.
The supermarket calls to her like a siren.
She can’t refuse its colored cans,
its cool freezer breath, stacks of lemons,
limes, apples, grapefruits, oranges,
its tussle of bananas and string beans.
She worships its bakery, sprinkled
donuts and caraway rye—buys more,
shops every day, sometimes twice.
She is in her element, pushing
the wheeled cart like an old friend,
focusing on the grocery list
tattooed to memory—aged cheddar
in case her son visits, Cheerios
for her grandson, goat’s milk
for her daughter, ice cream
and steak in case the neighbor
stops over, hungry.
Her dog carouses the yard with bristled
neck fur. Pine needles shed onto shingles
and an eave hangs loose like a strand
of hair escaping the barrette. The dock reins-in
boats—paddle, pontoon, kayak, canoe—
tethered like patient horses,
their marshy pasture a lily pad haven
full of turtle breath, frog dynamics, how wetlands
too harbors words—oasis, cattail, snake.
She pours us tea, one that claims
to detoxify, to soothe the throat. Honey
dissolves in the agitated swirl
of our spoons. I mention a home,
as if it’s a nesting word, as if she’s a porcelain
doll and I’m placing her in the doll house.
I promise she can take her dog
and her array of crackers. When I tell her
she can return in the spring,
the word Bitterroot sticks in my throat.
by Kate Kingston
Runner Up, Ruth Stone Poetry Prize