Sandra Kohler

Notes from One Spring

In the hospital, holding my granddaughter Katie,
two hours old: she is red, chapped, her body raw, 
undone. The play of reactions on her face, fluid, 
transparent – an array that mirrors mind –
sensations reactions impressions responses 
quick fleeting, cross it, are caught for moments, 
puzzlement or inchoate wonder. Playing on 
her tiny visage, the experience of a world.


How delicate the orchid I’ve moved into this room:
darker, smaller than the one I switched it with, curling
scallops more like a butterfly, exquisite insect form.


I don’t know what’s happening in the cutting bed.
If I planted marguerites where I thought I planted
cosmos, are they coming up, will they, are they just 
slow? The mountain bluet are over; if I cut them
back, will they rebloom? The fragrance of flags – 
white iris – is as pervasive as the pale thin sunlight 
glazing every leaf or shoot. If the garden about which 
I know at least a little baffles me, what about my 
growing granddaughter? About whom I know 
everything and nothing. 


We begin as creatures, fundamental: 
the in-and-out chart my son keeps for
Katie: eating and peeing and defecating. 
Almost all he says about her is focussed 
on these processes. She experiences hunger, 
cold, warmth, wetness, movement, noise, 
the pleasures and pains her body provides.
What else? What is color or pattern like 
for her, what does she dream, does 
she dream, of what is she aware beyond 
bodily sensation? Of what is she 
conscious, what is it like to be her?


Small birds flutter through the garden, larger
ones go overhead. Light and shadow on leaves
of the choke cherry, the tree hydrangea quiver
and ripple, shift and shimmer; summer is stirred
by morning; shaken, evenings, by storm. In the
eastern sky, a plane. Our neighbor and her sister 
across the street come out, dressed in pink, cream, 
icy pastel colors, their hats flower-decked boats 
sailing on upswept hair, their faces veiled. On 
the skinny stems of high heels they are flowers 
too, blooming in the gray gloom, on their way 
to whose wedding, what celebration?


In the film we saw yesterday at the Science Museum,
the mountain climber whose mountain climber father 
died on the north face of the Iger when his son was nine 
is obsessed with climbing the same mountain; it will 
liberate him, he believes, from the fear and grief 
that imprisoned him at his father’s death. For this, 
he’ll risk inflicting that anguish on his daughter, 
eleven. When he survives the climb, he feels freed. 
Why? His childhood was what it was, as mine was.
Our pasts exist still, have not been obliterated.


My granddaughter’s no longer that not-quite-
formed raw red creature, startlingly new;
her skin’s pale, creamy. Her exhausted mother 
tells me she sleeps a lot; awake, cries a lot. 
Today, our windows open, I hear Katie crying, 
hear a bird insistent on making his sound, 
voices from a yard a few houses down where 
someone’s working. Call and response. Cries, 
voices, birds, the drum of a hammer, chitter 
of squirrels, drone of a plane. A radio comes 
on, an announcer’s voice, will there be music? 
It’s loud. It’s off. Around me, what is being 
built, torn down, rebuilt? 


Sage and raspberry thrive in this backyard,
meanwhile something’s broken off new growth
on the andromeda, phlox. I suspect a dog.
The cutting bed, weeded, hoed, watered, 
mulched, is full now of zinnias and cosmos, 
sunflower studded among them. Where to 
put peonies next year, which is the sunniest 
spot in the backyard? I say peonies but I have 
only one, a frail thing. I may have killed that 
clump of ornamental grass I uprooted and
replanted in the shade bed. The mountain
bluet I divided has buds; it will rebloom. 
Experiment, experiment. To garden well 
is to be opportunistic, both 
intentional and spontaneous.


Her mother can’t figure out why Katie’s fussing, 
she’s fed, dry, “You just don’t like being two months 
old, do you?” How we want to pierce that impassable
barrier, unbridgeable gulf of distance between us, 
even mother and child, that isolate unsurmountable 
wall that locks us, from our beginnings, in the absolute 
loneliness of selfhood. We believe we can, that if 
we do it right, the barrier will vanish, enlightenment
will tear down that prison, banish the suffering 
we need not inherit, pass on. We can’t.


In raw rain, I plant a hundred
crocus in the backyard lawn. I want more
clematis, peonies. What fits in my life,
where? Yesterday, the doctor I see every
six months to check for growths says 
yes, it takes ten years to create a garden.
I’ve begun.

Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, appeared in May, 2011 from Word Press. Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November, 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past thirty-five years in journals including Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, APR, Natural Bridge, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and The Colorado Review.


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