The Fall of Rome
The city’s women knew too well
that when the seasons changed,
a house must change, too.
In the last days of the democracy
they walked barefoot through the rooms,
shaking the dust out of the sun-faded curtains,
watching for the scorpions
which sometimes crept along the walls
in autumn’s early chill.
They swept, as was their habit. They polished.
They put heavier quilts upon the beds.
They watered the houseplants
which were not yet dormant,
aware that even the hardy pothos
would not long outlive any woman
who had stood in the stead of rain.
That spring, when the newly unfurled leaves had draped
tender and neon on stems that reached
from the dark green center mass,
that sudden color had been so vivid
that it hurt something vital
they thought they had lost,
so that they felt the loss of it again.
A final flare of sunset. The blue jay feathers
they’d gathered as girls,
which must have wound up in boxes in attics,
going to dust and mites.
Those feathers had been almost fluorescent
against the brown winter grass.
They had long known that safety was the same
as that bright blue: just a trick of the light.
Some lies, so perfect, so precise,
you’d do almost anything to forgive them.
How to get a Hoya to Bloom
We have carried this single dream through a long winter
of silences. Carried this green thumb
and the greening hands and the safety of being indoors.
Carried the turn of hands,
and the leafless runner that goes farther and farther
into empty space, seeking something in the air it can root in.
The warmth of sun withdraws with the light
and draws the plant with which it has married.
Carries it in a riptide of bright
though it must stop at the glass
which it doesn’t possess the strength to break,
though the runners press hard, hard
against clarified and transparent sand.
And the arms spread as wide as they can get
in a room this size. Most people will wrap the runners
around the soil of the pot they sprang from
and weigh them down with rocks
before such unsightliness as has been allowed here.
Isn’t flowering what it was meant to do? Not only this.
This strange house, full of runners reaching, nothing else.
The green immigrant leaves, the tendrils
that yearn for belonging.
There are two options, I read, and only two.
The first: Withhold water from it for five weeks in spring.
A plant that believes it is dying will focus on flowering.
And for such temerity its reward will be its relief,
distilled water cold from the tank under the sink,
drawn from the dark underground pool of mineral
below us. Just in time.
The second: Do nothing. Let it be the single green dream
in a room of forgetfulness.
Every language is one that can be lost.
The world forgets even the names of its gods
unless they have been excavated and peer-reviewed.
And the cold still pool in the dark magnetic earth
is forgotten, too, again and again,
though it gives more of itself for each mercy.
Chera Hammons is a winner of the 2017 Southwest Book Award through PEN Texas and the 2020 Helen C. Smith Memorial Award through the Texas Institute of Letters. Her poetry appears in Baltimore Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry, Rattle, The Sun, The Texas Observer, THRUSH, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, Maps of Injury (2020), is available through Sundress Publications.