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
      as despair.


Hardening Off

Each night, detach
the heart.  Set it
out in zero.
Latch the door.

By morning,
each chamber, each
banished ventricle,
will lace in ice.

Re-attach.  Repeat.
Your heart will feed
on frost, numbing
bone & blood.

Each day chill
a little deeper,
& so prepare
for mourning

without wound
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).