You sign your full name with a stick on the freshly poured
Path of cement: the end of the last letter returns to
your first name In the wet dust. Around, a slew of peonies
Hurry to bloom before the bluebells, before you plant them.
You surprise me with dill seeds from Grandmother
That you kept since our last trip home.
You brought her in this soil and now we are together
Through plants we touched in different countries.
Remember? A cart full of red and white grapes at the head
Of our vineyard, red wine pressed years before,
Goat’s cheese and tomatoes spread under the oak tree
And horses let loose for children whose voices ripened the earth.
I have the picture in which you crossed yourself in front of St Mary’s icon at Vatra.
It was the first week of chemotherapy when we had the service with
Seven candles and seven prayers and seven readings from the Gospels.
Seven times we walked to the altar where the priest painted crosses with holy oil
On our cheeks, on our foreheads, and the backs of our hands. For we must sin
With our minds, hurt others with our hands, and carry our shame on our faces.
So we try to redeem ourselves with our minds, and hands, and clean our cheeks.
I look at your pale profile, at your balding head in front of those candles
And ask what the mother in red and her child in white,
carefully placed In the whitest of wood frames, will do for you.
We cried with you: Mother, I, and a congregation of exiles
Dreaming their own into the smoke of the censer.
We are small gardens in strange places, small voices –
Prayers weakening with age and heavy accents hammering wrong syllables:
Does God understand us in English or our own language still?
You choose the path with handwriting that marks your name and year
And I carry your garden in my head, along with the memory of you and Mother
Embracing on the doorstep the day we received the news:
In the months to come what binds us is the most silent of prayers, unuttered still.