The sweetness & the sting: Two Poems

The sweetness & the sting: Two Poems

The sweetness & the sting: Two Poems 1765 1174 Stacey Forbes

For my mother, walking in the woods at night
on the anniversary of my father’s death

Unable to sleep with his silence,
she wanders through whispers
of nightshade. Horse nettles with
flowers of blue fire lie still
in the moonlight. These blooms
may kill her quietly or make her
believe she’s in love – and
what is the difference?
This handful of bullets slips
easily into the chamber
that some call a heart.
She was an oak tree
for most of her life.
Tonight, she is a dandelion
blown apart by a wish.
Her memories – once photographs –
fall at her feet like confetti.


Beautiful and potentially deadly, Carolina horse-nettle
can be used as a poison, a medicine, or an aphrodisiac.

-Excerpts from an Arizona orchard

Six days into spring and I am sitting in the kitchen
tending tins of dirt in the oven. Two hundred
and twenty degrees Fahrenheit bakes the last of the
rain from the soil we took from the orchard.
Our experiment asks: how much water is gone,
and long how can we live with what’s left?
I’m falling in love with the warm earth. I want to sift it
like a powdered sugar into my father’s fresh grave.
I want to fashion a blanket for him from strata gathered
with care and cradled for days in banana bread tins.
Sweetness we never knew how to give to the living.

There is much to be discovered.
I don’t cry, but sometimes hives appear
above my heart. I fall asleep dreaming
of bees, carrying our memories
from tree to tree, humming love, bearing
more fruit than our thin limbs can hold.

We long for the nectar.
We live with the sting.

Out of the oven, the earth is sometimes
powder, sometimes clay, always on the verge
of crumbling. We bake away more water.
How carefully we measure what is lost.

We are not stars; we are the offspring
of organic hearts – salt of the earth, old
as dirt. Seeds in search of fertile ground.

Back in the field, our lungs fill with light.
We want to be essential as the earthworm
that breathes through its skin.

One day, my father will come up for air.
He will be trees, peaches, pistachios,
drinking from the mouths of bees.

And so we sit with incubators in our kitchen.
We learn from dirt how to hold rain for days,
no matter the heat, or the darkness.
We document the weight, the density
of our desire to drink our fill. We teach
the orchard keepers what is needed –
when to flood the fields and when
to say, enough. We sanctify our hands
to hold the sacred rite of watering our fathers.

With thanks to Steven, and the Coronado water conservation project

Header photograph © Lexy.

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