“Picking a favorite dahlia is like going through a button box.”
—from The Old Farmers Almanac
When My Mother Forgets the Word for Dahlia
it is February. It is the last day of her 84th year,
the latest day in this ruthless unspooling of days,
of pandemic lockdown, its cruel isolation
and winter, all the gardens covered over,
all our lives fallow, fallow. When my mother forgets
the word for dahlia, tall flower as familiar to her as a daughter,
its name soft as psalm on the tongue, it is yet another day
of all the distances between us—every long year apart,
every rocky geography, every hurt forgiven and not
forgiven. And in that instant every distance opens wide
its spacious arms as every distance collapses and gathers, as dahlia waits
snug in its button box to be found, tucked just out of memory’s reach until it passes
like miracle into me, blossoming into speech— dahlia, I say through the phone
and into my mother’s frustrated silence, her solitary sorting, sorting, sorting.
I give her back the beloved, the favorite flower, the one
she knows but can no longer name. When my mother forgets
the word for dahlia, I drive in a blinding rain to the wizened women
at the nursery called Blue Moon. They will know. They will
know the flower I have come for.
by Robin Turner
Editor’s Note: The imagery and repetition in this spectacular poem effortlessly supports the heartrending emotional narrative with dignity and a hint of the desperation felt by the speaker.