Poetry by Judith Montgomery
Widow Walking Her Garden
To get out grief
cut it at the root.
Belief lies in no leaf,
settles in no shoot.
Hope, a gauzy orchid
spun of air.
Nothing as tenacious
Each night, detach
the heart. Set it
out in zero.
Latch the door.
each chamber, each
will lace in ice.
Your heart will feed
on frost, numbing
bone & blood.
Each day chill
a little deeper,
& so prepare
when your dearest
depart. This is
no lie. I swear it
on my acclimated heart.
And yet the sun plunges
its needle of light
through the brittle
eye of the room.
The dumb grass welcomes
the clot of wet petals
sloughed from the branch
of the crippled pear.
And March rain gleams
on the sill, on the street
where the brutal stop-
light does not stop.
My Husband is Handed Her Remains
O, to hold your mother
in your hands: clasp the knotted
box (ash: kiss: bone): gone.
My mother’s ax rusts by the pump,
the shaft I tamped worn under sweat
and salt, grain blood-marked by blisters
split when she split the last stubborn
cord, glazed in late November sleet
that sheeted clod-hard ground and stump,
layering the shed until it slumped.
That shattered roof’s now dried and bleached
in brilliant sun that glances from
black serge shined against smoothed pews,
threadbare lace of ironed handkerchiefs,
the parson’s bald head sloped above
his book of prayer, its leather warped
by thumb and August’s stiff corn heat.
The neighbor’s cakes are cut inside.
I hunker here in straw-dried weeds
to test the blade, red as rust can
make it—still sharp enough beneath
the flakes to split a thumb, a stack
of oak, a knotted, sap-sore heart.
To Be Heaven
This plot is sacred. To our children,
their beloved animals laid out
in makeshift shrouds of sheets,
cardboard boxes crayoned Digger.
Flower. Beagle. Painted turtle. Now
Sussie: kitty killed by the local
raccoon. Out of some dim ancestral
sense of rite, the children direct us:
each adult in succession, each child
robed in chosen marks of sorrow—
her unraveling winter scarf, his jean
jacket long outgrown, his thin wrists
shivering in the dawn breeze (dawn, so
the animal’s soul may ascend to what
the young ones have determined to be
Heaven). We’ve tramped through soaking
autumn grasses to the almost-iced
pond, down the path they have laid
out as the proper way to go. Now
gather near the brink—useless appens stones—
while they wield the unwieldy shovel,
part and pat the creek-bank dirt to make
a fitting home from which the animal’s
spirit might lift to blue fields above.
We check the urge to stroke the unbrushed
tails of hair so close to our hands—
unwilling to distract them from their
crucial task. And we, we trust that if
we serve as witness here, respectful
of their grief and formal plans, our own
plans will not go astray: we will never
need to suit up, never need to follow
small named coffins down to dirt.
Judith H. Montgomery’s poems appear in the Bellingham Review, Measure, Prairie Schooner, and Cave Wall, among other journals, as well as in a number of anthologies. Her chapbook, Passion, received the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Poetry; Red Jess, a finalist for several national first book prizes, was published by Cherry Grove Collections (2006); Pulse & Constellation (finalist for the Finishing Line Poetry Prize, 2007) followed. Her new manuscript, Litany for Bloom and Wound, centers on scarring and healing, particularly in the lives of women.
The following poems were originally published elsewhere: Widow Walking Her Garden, The Comstock Review (2006); Hardening Off, High Desert Journal (2007); Hospice, Red Jess (Cherry Grove Collections, 2006); Service, Roanoke Review (2003); To Be Heaven, Measure (2011).