My grandmother rolls
the hem of her shirt
as she would a piece of lefse,
curling it into a tight cylinder,
exposing her mole-dotted stomach,
a pale, wrinkled mound,
skin hanging in loose piles
collected at her waist.
My mother wears rubber gloves
as she pulls away a moistened strip
of pus-yellowed bandage
like old wallpaper steamed
loose by the heat of gestating cells,
piping a cleaning solution
over the bloodied gouge.
The incision seems etched in the center,
edges gray with healthy tissue
spreading to cover smooth, pink flesh.
She pats it dry with a towel,
my grandmother wincing
at the dry scratch of gauze –
fitted, cut, pressed, thin and white
like strands of her hair
woven into a lattice. When my mother
places a new bandage, she smoothes
the corners, pressing ridged fabric
flush to seal the fresh dressing.
And after she’s finished,
my mother leaves her hand
on the rising and falling belly, leaning forward
as though she might lay her head
in the space between wound and navel,
a gentle press of the ear, listening
to sounds of her home.
* * *
My father crouches in the packed soil,
his white tennis shoes streaked black,
as though the earth had reached up
to paint brushstrokes that curled
from the soles and across the laces.
He pulls out a carrot, the dirt cracking
and caving in as the mouth emerges—
orange ridges still crusted with soil.
His first garden, the plot bordered by bricks,
tilled into parallel rows, fenced with thin wire
to stop rabbits.
He’d coaxed out some life already,
rounded red tomatoes
stamped with bottom rot, golf ball onions,
even slender green beans, stalks bent down
like winter trees heavy with snow,
just as my father bends over them
in the winter of his life, arms weighted
with the tilling, the planting, the watering.
The carrot is small—short of an index finger,
just as wide, but still he brings it in the house,
rinses the clay-coated ribs, runs a thumb-plow
through the rows. He pokes at it gently,
rolling the stubby root along the hills of his palm.