A Curious Imitation

Mary Ellen Foster McEvily

Your garden is not complete until there is
nothing more you can remove from it.

-- Japanese aphorism

She called me "honey" when I was small,
explaining it was sweet, made by the bee,
which sounded like the "be" in "you can
be anything you want." Words can do at least
two things, sometimes too much.

My mother showered me with dozens every day.
There were more words she said than all the petals
on all the flowers in her garden which we named and
picked each summer morning and I held up
my little skirt to catch them all.

When she began to lose the words she loved
even more than me, I remembered this.
She could not name a peony or rose, could not
remember honey is the perfect food,
never spoils because it kills bacteria.

Flailing, she was reduced to pronoun use as in
"you always loved him more" about my father or
"she never liked us, ever" about a neighbor she adored.
A distance grew between her self and things, imperceptible
as a displacement of the air when one you love walks by.

One night, we were alone, before the mirror in her room.
She did not grasp my words or watch my mouth,
but mute now, fastened on my hands, which I
brought up slowly to remove my glasses for the night;
then, she, with hesitation, made a curious imitation to remove her own,

smiled a final time as if she had caught in her nightgown's fall
a new word, was tasting the pure, unspoiled power.

Mary Ellen Foster McEvily is a poet who lives in New York City.