The Red Wheelbarrow by Martha Deed

The Red Wheelbarrow

The old woman on Sweeney Street is shoveling loose soil from a backfilled trench snaking across her yard from the street to a wall of her house that has a white and blue sticker on it. The covered trench covers a spanking new gas line to a future gas furnace, because the 200 gallon oil tank in her basement is past its useful life. She does not wish a new tank that would outlive her and the old oil furnace which probably won’t. The woman is shoveling dirt from the trench to a red wheelbarrow that carries a tag “For Sale $15” which she tied to the barrow when she decided she was too old to use it anymore. But then, a room had to be lifted to replace the failed foundation underneath and her driveway cracked and rose to break a snowplow’s steel blade ‒ This is Buffalo ‒ and so she is using the red wheelbarrow but is leaving the tag in place just in case. She wheels the dirt to the rear of the house near the new foundation where her established raised gardens were scraped bare for new concrete, and she dumps the soil ‒ just so ‒ among rocks strewn under the windows ‒ the rocks once forming a wall ­‒ now tossed across and under the spread earth. Winter is coming. There are no bulbs for Fall planting. The barren rock garden will wait for Spring.

An old house preserved
stripped, restored ‒ an old woman
plans Spring gardens ‒ hopes

by Martha Deed

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Editor’s Note: This haibun offers the reader a glimpse into the inevitable disintegration of our space (personal, external, etc.) while also illustrating the persistence of hope.

79 Declaring Eminent Domain… by Martha Deed

79 Declaring Eminent Domain and Building Empathy
in a Land where Actual War is Far Away

The governor takes your Dad’s house,
plus dozens more, elms, auto shop,
roads and general store to build a cloverleaf.
The rent controlled apartment you barely can afford
will soon convert to condominiums, the notice says,
but do not be afraid. You will get the insider’s price
(which you cannot afford) or be evicted at your death
or sooner if we like. Life stops in that moment.
Peace on hold while lawyers and rent strikers fight
the plan to death or to a truce. And when your ex
crosses state lines with our toddler, says he’ll remain
abroad until you apologize for not packing enough
underpants ‒ Oh! ‒ Plus give up custody, See her
only when he decides ‒ Oh! ‒ or he will park
her precious body in France (which he later did).
Yes, like that. Like chest pains while shoveling
snow. Ominous. The small wars of everyday life
make real the big one in Ukraine. Unstoppable
bully demanding custody of what is not his
to seize ‒ Oh! ‒ if we have any sense at all
we know that recognition of life’s fragility,
how important it is to save our homes,
our children and our country no matter what
the cost, no matter if we are left unaided
to fight for future peace. And we know as well
that not all survival battles are won against invaders.
Snow fell overnight.
I get chest pain when I shovel.

by Martha Deed

Editor’s Note: Life is unbearably fragile in the face of war.

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Wild Bergamot by Martha Deed

Wild Bergamot

You should get a smaller car the woman said
who blocked my exit from the poetry reading parking place
in a field off the grid on Wheeler Hill and rallying to her cause she said
There is no reason for that big SUV and climbed into her puny Kia
that had me turning and backing and forwarding and looking
and considering like the days on West 111th Street
on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, six inches longer than the car
all that’s needed on those streets, but this was a green grass hilltop
and this was poetry and sunshine and singing birds in nearby shrubs
and in all that space the woman with the Kia could find no better place to park
her vehicle than too close behind my car and nothing better to do
than to make an environmental point on a Saturday afternoon in August.
I need this car I said to hold my daughter’s power wheelchair
and continued the backing and turning until I freed myself.
She handed me a tiny pink flower. It’s a Wild Bergamot she said.
Thank you I said, and she left no doubt thanking herself for being kind
but I knew who was kinder that day ‒ I did not say “dead daughter.”

by Martha Deed

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Editor’s Note: The rush of words in this poem mirrors the swell of frustration that the speaker feels in a very difficult situation. The contrast of the clearly punctuated last line with the previous ones gives it even more of an emotional punch than it would otherwise have.