Charity Ketz

May. We planted tomatoes in the no man's land
between the sidewalk and the road,
hoping the sun
that cracked across the black whip road
but shunned the mossy silence of our house
would throb through those tomatoes.

My mother had MS. When it was bad
her tongue shook in her mouth.
I watched her stretched out on the couch
filling, refilling with air
while the single fan
wedged between lip and sill
slashed the same blank space,
pulling in, in.

When the dizziness stopped, when the numbness stopped,
she would lurch up,
wrench her head,
jab long metal clasps
sideways through her hair,
close the hooked ends together.

I couldn't stop watching
the trained threads of water
leap and arc over the lawn,
fanning slowly.

June. We pounded stakes
through the dry,
unturned soil,
the raw uneasy bed
between sidewalk and road.
The tomatoes, a flowering foot high,
angled forward,
their spines delicately curled in a profound slouch
toward the road.
Dust settled, and settled.

We tore strips of my father's old bathrobe,
to tie the vines,
and when the shaking came back,
my mother paced, afraid that if she stopped
she wouldn't be able to stand anymore.
Our house stayed dark. Heat
bloomed in from the walls without release.

August. Canning time
and freezing. We gave most of the tomatoes away.
At night, thin patches of wind
brushed our house, probing.
A mauve sky felt itself
still there.
Outside my window
the flag pulled and clanked.

Then she was better for days and better
for months. When last tomatoes
rotted on the vine she sent me to cut them
down to one-inch pieces.

My father used to do this. Leaning into the
greenish-white globes, I imagined
shearing myself, being sheared, the ragged
stump of my head—
And it was just hair and hair and hair.





Even as a child, the pliability of retelling mattered immensely to me. Within the tether of voices, the double self of house and yard, there was that. All kinds of things, vegetable, whatever, grew fervently at my parents' house. Care twined around panic, disgust—the house offered vistas. I could always leap—and then try to revise leaping.