In the hour before closing I’m roving gravel paths among dogwoods and viburnums,

exotic hollies and burlap-swaddled spruce. I’m gloating a little, browsing the rows

of Chinese cherries,

junipers and pines, turning tags to discover their habitat, what kind of soil they need,

how much sun.

He moves slowly through the peonies and ornamental trees, stopping to inspect the 

stone-cast hands

of St. Francis cupping sunflowers and a pair of sparrows.

I assume he’s a volunteer, one of the elderly from the Home who come to pull weeds

and stack containers,

but then I see he’s speaking to the layered faces of roses, his mouth making words

I can’t understand,

mumbling with gentle affection, moving on to address the lilies and thick-stemmed


each pistil a receiver for his litanies. For what lover would want his greasy T-shirt and

flannel pants,

the fly held shut with a paper clip, his scent of urine, dirt and sweat? In the distance,

I glimpse the attendants pointing and nodding, the younger one putting down his rake,

setting his cart aside,

striding toward us—I know what he’s going to do—so for a moment

I step outside my skin and enter the old man’s body, filthy and vagabond;

I slip back. I’m saying to him: Aren’t they lovely this year? and Did you see these

over here?,

trying not to breathe or look, glancing over my shoulder

to where the attendant has stopped to watch us, arm in arm, between the arborvitae

and miniature pines.

I know you’re wondering what happened next, but listen: I took his arm. We walked.

I was saved.

more poems
—Jen Bryant
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