The Refugee's Garden
The old lady died and her estate went up for sale.
In her garden a persimmon tree offered its fruit to anyone who’d take it.
The clouds passed noiselessly.
The sky was piercing blue.
The tree was a house.
The tree knew its days (like its rings) were numbered.
When the tree fell, it fell in pieces.
Its shadow lay scattered on the dry grass.
The ashes of the old lady were interred in marble.
The sky got bigger. The sun got hotter.
The picture changed.
Sap and yolk drained from the garden like running paint.
Rose beetles struggled through sawdust until the heat turned them on their backs.
Swallowtails spiralled from the wreckage like flakes from a burning document.
A stillness came. There was no swaying.
There was no corresponding dance of leaves and limbs.
The wind swept through the garden like a broom through a vacant bedroom.
Starlings sang bitterly of the shape of absence
for as long as they could remember the tune.
The goldfish looks dead again,
resting its head on the multicoloured
substrate beside the sunken pirate ship.
Yesterday it was floating
downside up, the water filter wimpling its fins like
a summer breeze would gently
lift the gauze at our kitchen window in Cortona
I’d hear you arriving, feet crunching the gravel path,
hands full of harvested persimmon,
washed with sunlight,
skins still warm,
our bedsheets rippling the floor.
Without a refrigerator, I’d overturn
the fruitbowl to keep the sweetness fresh.
I know by now not to worry that inversion equals
death, the bulbous flesh
of our pet’s belly tipped skyward
still abides by the stubborn symmetry of life.
It breathes its liquid home delicately
in & out, sways its veils in burlesque parody,
its eyes swivel at my looming hand.
I like to think its brain has started to retrain itself
to accept a life capsized,
that it has stopped wondering how
it arrived at this configuration
of water, glass & air, of scales tipped
along a lateral line. That it believes now—can’t remember
ever thinking otherwise—that the gorgeous
flare of its fantail is
the torch of its beginning.
Catherine Gander is a poet, critic, and academic. Recent poems can be found in Poetry London, On the Seawall, Bad Lilies, Palette, and more. Nine of her poems are in the 3-poet collaborative anthology Sea Between Us (Nine Pens Press, 2022).