January 3, 2012

Heidi Garnett

A HUNDRED AND FIFTY KINDS OF GRASSES

The town ends at Pearl’s place,
a rough plank four room shack.
Half an hour to school walking
if you cut across open prairie.

Pearly, pearly-white, pearly-everlasting,
a head taller than the boys in the grade one classroom,
a p-p-pretty girl, raggy though,
like the scrub ponies roaming the Porcupine Hills.
You had to approach her slowly
                                    hand out palm up.

I think Pearl recognized something of herself in me,
the little refugee girl who couldn’t speak English
and cried when her father brought her to school.
It was April and the sun’s long processional had begun:
violets, shooting stars, pussy toes, wild roses.

Imagine,
a hundred and fifty kinds of grasses,
beak grass, fox sedge, purple love grass, silky wild rye
and big bluestem tall as a man’s waist.
We’d push the grass aside
and wade into the middle of a wind tossed lake
            where no one could see us.

In summer,
the cemetery became our playground,
a tangle of corms, rootstalks and headstones,
                                    inscriptions;
how the dead inscribe themselves on the living
though we didn’t know how deeply
until years later. Sadly missed,
my father with his brain tumour and your mother
so obese she sat in the double seats
reserved for smoochers at the Empress Theatre.

When I think of Pearl now I see her
married at sixteen, five children in seven years, a husband
who later drank himself to death. I see her
running across the prairie to meet me halfway
I see her running as if her life depends on it.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011
Tribute to Canadian Poets

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