Three Poems
    Jody Gladding


Like her brother, whose letters appear below, my mother left Germany
after World War II, although she would refer to it as "her country" until
she died. "Show me your face before you were born," demands the Zen
master. My question is less enlightened: "Show me your face before I
was born." And always her answer remains both a commonplace and
an enigma.

      White asparagus,
      sweet, stringy mushroom you tend at night.
      By moonlight, you reach under the ground to slice it clean.
      The nights before the war,
      my mother danced with barons who smoked short cigarettes,
      and gypsies read her palm.
      The shoes she wore shone silver like the moon.

    Baron Von Kutschenbach. He was Estonian. I remember the long
    Egyptian, or were they Russian,
    papyrossi. Five marks a day we had,
    either for cake or horse riding. The best hotel, etc., of course paid
    by our father. Though only lard for breakfast. Butter was already

      To protect from the light
      by burying: this is different from innocence.

    When we left in August we saw from the train all the heavy guns
    and everything was ready and we did not really know for what.
    Barons in Germany mean little. They bought their titles. I
    remember the 16th of October, 1939, Margarete's 20th birthday.
    Poland was already taken.

      Europeans prefer their asparagus white,
      though any variety may be blanched.
      As in, to blanch with fear.

    The parquet at Osterdeich was ideal for dancing. I had the honor
    to turn the spring on the gramophone. Once some British bombers
    came, forty of them.

      Here, it's all grown green.
      Predominantly male plants put their energy
      completely into producing spears.

    It needed courage to drive a Ford in Germany in 1939. Our father
    would not drive the same car as Hitler. He did not like him. He
    sent my sister twice to England on the Europa and the Bremen.
    Beautiful ships. They held the Blue Ribbon.

      To mutilate. To cultivate.
      Same bed, different roots.

    I remember her time in a munitions factory when her hair
    turned green. I remember her in some Red Cross uniform.
    But I have seen Margarete very little.

      The day my father calls to say
      he's bought her cemetery lot,
      I'm putting in asparagus.

    I remember the silver shoes.

      My mother's wedding band was gold as butter.
      Before each meal, she'd bow for grace,
      hands poking up toward God.

    When did you travel with her on a train?

      As if hilling up our ghosts
      could keep them tender.

    Was it when you went together to Germany?

      Give careful thought to where
      you locate the planting
      because it could be there a long time.

    I cannot remember.

The day stretches long, most of it spent on trains. We're rocking against
our bags, traveling north. It's fall. There isn't much to see — mounded
earth, inedible moot points. "Look," she says, "asparagus." Her finger
taps the window long after the view has changed.

Flower Moon

o many of them look down look away
                                                                     the early ones
            this isn't easy for them
                                                                                  the trout lily the wild oats
                        I was sowing then I didn't even know
                                   the boy hired to watch the building site
                        I showed him where the road ended
                                  and the overgrown trail
                        I brought him to the open abandoned place
                       and lay down

trust trust say the limp wings of emerging moths
          the new leaves droop from trees and blush swearing they
                     don't know anything yet anything almost sickly
                                                                              I lay down

                                                                             and no harm
                                             came to me there
                                                        no harm
                     done though so often my good mother
waited up if my blouse was inside out she turned
shaking her white head
                                             oh my love remember
                                    this time of molting crabs
                    when nothing can protect you
and                                                       nothing                                                       does.

May 11, 1999 — Outside St. Martin

    "There is a house that is no more a house."— Robert Frost

The verb, to miss, in French is manquer. But subject and object are reversed. Tu me
manque. La campagne me manque.
I miss you. I miss the country. An English speaker
is apt to translate these backwards: you miss me, the country misses me. Yet giving
weight, as the French does, to the person or thing missed makes a certain amount of
sense. The you, the country, is still there, after all, fully present and substantial. It's the I
that's less real, that in the action of missing, takes on the quality of absence.

My friend and I have just climbed to the third floor of a ruined house. The attic divides
neatly in half. On one side, ancient beams and rafters, all dark, except where sun breaks
through the crumbling roof tiles. And all along the rafters, bats. On the other side, a
pigeonnier, a white door opening into a white room with three levels of empty cubicles,
each with its own entrance. The floor thick with feathers and pigeon droppings. A south-
facing window lighting the white absence of pigeons.

My friend has lived in this village since her children were small. She shows me where
her daughter had a playhouse in a corner of the collapsed barn. Some of her kitchen
things are still there. Her daughter's moved to Avignon now, but she still brings her
friends back here, just to look around.

I hardly hear her. This village is so beautiful, this house so replete with ruin and promise.
But I'm not here to receive it. I'm tired of being in a foreign place. I miss you. I miss the
I want to go home. Today I called my friend because I felt so lost I was afraid
I'd disappear.

Because there's no word in French for home, there's no word for homesickness.
Nostalgie, though that's too mild. Mal du pays, though that's too broad. No, it's this
divided attic, the dark presence of bats, agitated and sleeping lightly, the glaring white
lack of pigeons, all longing, the window's absent gaze.

Cette maison me manque.

Jody Gladding's most recent book, Artichoke, (Chapiteau Press, 2000) was a finalist for the Book of the Year award from the Vermont Book Professionals Association. Her first book, Stone Crop, was published in 1993 in the Yale Younger Poets award series. Gladding has been a recipient of a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, as well as a Whiting Fellowship, and her poems have been featured in The Best American Poetry anthologies as well as in journals including The Yale Review, Orion, and Wilderness. Gladding makes her living as a translator of French literary and philosophical works. She resides in East Calais, Vermont.

In Posse: Potentially, might be . . .