Mustard Greens, Interstate 580

With enough olive oil and lemon juice,
it was easy for her to overlook the occasional
woody stem, their bitter tang:
roadside mustard, dandelion greens,
right there at the freeway’s side—
first a bag, then the entire trunk stuffed
full. She came to carry a knife in the glove box
to cut the juicy weeds of this new country,
while her husband laughed
at the provincial poverty of it all—
eating greens that had been basking
in car fumes and animal piss—
yet for her, hunger was not just a distant thought
but a chemical memory in her muscles,
her jaws. And out here was a veritable Sound of Music,
the hills alive, nourishing the village she carried,
whispering yes, we will feed you. These are new
melodies of unyellowed mustard in early spring,
songs of fullness, love. The crunch underfoot as she scouts
the freshest bunch. The squeak of swaddling in clean
flour-sack towels. The drive back in the brown LeSabre,
shrugging off banana boat comments.
Later, at home, she washes up a sinkload
and boils it gently for an hour. Everyone eats.


On the Subject of the Crawl Space

As the name suggests, kiddo, a crawl space
is a sort of basement. Should the room

be a mushroom? The floor, a drama
of spores? Wherefore? You say

the room’s height was as low
as your childhood—hey! I worked hard

to carve out that space. The resident mole’s
bum ankle kept you up at night, you say?

Could’ve been worse: Look at me
in my early days. Now, disperse, go away.

I’m your mother, and I’m not thinking
about stalks, caps, and volvas. My pickax trembles.

Memory’s Nettles

Do you remember biting into
the soggy forkful
of dark stem-and-leaf,
tasting the startling sweetness

of Greek mountain afternoon? In that rocky lot
dotted with wild cyclamen, your sisters—
my aunts—walking slowly, pointing out
clumps with their knives. The oldest, my namesake

in widow’s black, telling the story of boiled
nettles. The soldier who, missing his own
young daughter, wanted to adopt you.
We young women, always the American girls

with tied tongues and half-understanding smiles, know nothing
except the greens. That day we picked
armyra, italika, vlita, radikia; stuffed
our weeds into plastic bags and walked to Lia’s,

where we removed the roots, bathed
the greens in a large zinc tub, and tossed
them into a pot of boiling water. I,
steak knife in my hand, racked my brain
for a word—remember?