First time fiddleheading without you,
I tried to stave off tears with one of your songs,
but I couldn’t remember the tune.
I’ve forgotten most everything you
taught me, the Latin names of mushrooms,
the Bible verses every girl should know,
names of ancestors and all those proverbs.
I don’t remember how to clean a fish
or boil sap. Seeking those elusive
ferns, that manna, paupers’ nutrition, I prayed to you,
please don’t be disappointed, show me like you used to,
I’m sorry I didn’t listen, and I heard your voice,
Go where the water has been but isn’t anymore . . .
look for the skunk cabbage. I walked, surer,
and they appeared, and I knelt with my open empty
plastic grocery bag and began to pluck those
sweet jewels from their stalks, and my tears ran
into the mud, and when I went to wipe my eyes,
I smelled the earth on my fingers and was forgiven.
Why I Run Through the Cemetery
I like to imagine there are clouds of witnesses
born and died in times I can only see in sepia still frames.
There are bleachers full of them
on every side and even above, cheering me on
because they understand how much work it takes
to put one foot in front of the other, because they understand
in a way we yet can’t, the grinding of the gears
when spirit and flesh interlock and each tries
to steer the other. They have already run this race
and they know how it ends. When they beat the drums
that pump in my ears, they can already hear
my personal crescendo. Time is a vapor to them.
Where I see dates etched into stone, they see
a child’s crayoned attempts at metaphysics.
But for now, it is all I know, this language,
this pulse, and I nod to them as I pass.
I’ve memorized their names and roles.
I did not know Margaret Libby, but I know
she was mother, teacher, friend, and
she birthed a beloved son she never named.
I do know her neighbors, my grandmother’s
parents; they rest at the top of a hill,
so I haven’t the breath to speak at that point
to know me. They know me better than the living can.
The living see me through veils of selves,
they don’t look at me — they look at what I may
mean to them through a dirty windshield
at fifty miles per hour. Here,
there is no speed. No time. No agendas.
Here, there are only markers of a much greater journey.
And there are grandstands full of those who know this.
So each day, one step at a time, I labor through.
Wind at my back, I do not labor alone.
These are where I come from.
And this is where I’ll go.
I am an ant.
I am very small.
I could get stepped on.
But I’m so busy working,
I don’t have time to be afraid.
Robin Merrill is a writer/editor/poet from rural Maine. Her most recent book is the novella Grace Space: A Direct Sales Tale. Her first novel Shelter is forthcoming soon. She will represent Portland, Maine at the 2015 National Poetry Slam in Oakland, California. Visit her at robinmerrill.com.