Alta, Who Cares for the Things of the World

Alta, who cares for the the things of the world
neither wisely nor well, but with a steady,
smoldering demand of recompense,
slow grudge that no grace repays
her years of loss and disorder, Alta

who scowls each day at the curb, glares back
at broken glass on the corner, who smokes
a cigarette with eloquent despair, waiting
for the bus while her nineteen-year-old lover sleeps
sideways across the bed all morning, she

who goes off tolift and bathe
the brittle ladies of the Westhurst Convalescent Home
and returns to pusha vacuum over a brown carpet,
who puzzles over mysteries of broken safety lock and
ripped awning, and sprays the driveway with a hose,

who leans against a screen door at evening
until the mesh stretches out and gets slack
as a woman's belly, this Alta
is granted tonight a bounty, unasked joy,
discovered by accident as she walks

behind her house by the broken fence,
through devastation of eucalyptus and shards of glass,
uprooted hibiscus and yucca.
And there appears last April's garden,
planted in hope and abandoned, when the men

came to dig up the water mains.
There in the trenches seeds have rooted.
Sheltered beside piles of brush and lumber,
the plants have grown tall, found themselves whole,
climbed boards and wire, out from the bare dirt.

She finds there first season's fruits:
small hard tomatoes and a tiny pepper,
knots of energy among the leaves and sticks.
She digs with her hands and pulls out baby carrots
and twists the new squash from the vine.

She piles vegetables in the basket of a broken
doll's buggy, which she carries with care,
stepping over the hose and the upended
wading pool, through grass and gravel and weeds
back to the house, thrown open to evening.

Rick, the boy-child, ten months her husband, rises
magically from the sofa to remove the stereo earphones.
He holds the door and she enters,
dirt on her knees and hands, the yellow muumuu
stained with black earth. Her daughter,

known to the streets as God-damn-you-Jennifer,
shakes back her head, the mass of fiery hair
insulted to curls by strong chemicals
and reaches up to take, or share,
the burden in her mother's arms.

They slide the basket onto the table, and Frank,
the downstairs boarder. wheels his chair over
and they begin touching the food, believing it.
They knock dirt from carrots
and scrub them at the sink; they slice

onions and drizzle olive oil,
put water on to boil and set out butter.
An odor of the garden rises: damp earth
and steam, and evening air, and onion.
Working over it, gathered, they see themselves

for once together. They see for a moment,
in a moment that will not save them,
how they might be. Struck by the fact,
they look at each other with hatred,
each seeing what is lost, blaming.

:: Cynthia Huntington, We Have Gone to the Beach (1996)

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