The Butcher’s Wife
The year was round with zeros, 1900,
and they lived in a Lithuanian shtetl
where her garden smelled like roses and mint
and she collected eggs each day
from fifteen chickens
to sell at the market stand.
Her husband was a butcher,
a moyl really, but who could make a living
He had a shop and knives, lots of knives.
A peddler came to the farm one day
and showed her how to open her mouth
and kiss. When he left,
she ran her tongue along the surface
of her teeth and smiled.
It took three days to spill her confession.
Why else would a peddler
spend a sunny afternoon at one farm?
So she fasted, a full week,
as her husband ordered,
and scrubbed her mouth with soap.
She had no words that week.
Nothing passed between her lips.
But when she stepped into her garden
her whole mouth blossomed
like roses, like the taste of mint.
You’re wearing that pink and purple dress
you like to swirl in and you’re not
looking up at the camera.
You are looking at the flowers
in your bouquet at my wedding
and you’re not listening to poems or vows
or seagulls scratching up the sky.
You’re picking at the flowers
as if talking to them about their behavior,
how they need to smile just right
to catch the sunlight
and not lean or wilt or fall apart.
How they have to last
like sweets or salt or a secret.
Some days I want you back in your crib
reaching your arms up to get out,
all that light wrapped inside you
so easy for me to carry.
Someone warned me,
She can’t live in your pocket.
Watch the birds.
Every day a different one dipping
into the birdbath then leaping away.
I wake up one morning
and you’re taller than me.
Now you hold another bouquet
in this garden with Malibu blue and lilac
draping the aisle where we walk.
If someone asks me who you are,
I’ll tell them you’re an actor stepping on stage
and making everyone laugh,
a teacher surrounded by a cluster of kids
who hold you like a keepsake.
I’ll tell them you’re my best friend.
Your honey-colored hair sways
and a Renoir bloom shimmers inside your eyes.
In a moment I will step aside
and this young man will walk away with you.
Just five months ago you wanted me
to help you find a wedding dress.
And how lucky I am, after all these years,
that you asked.