In art, politics, school, church, business, love

 or marriage—in a piece of work or in a career—

strongly spent is synonymous with kept. 

                                                              —Robert Frost

She taught me the names of flowers: calendula, ranunculus, Iceland
poppy. And the medicinal uses of herbs: Fenugreek opens up a
stuffy head; goldenseal lubricates the cracked mucous membranes.
Over a circa 1820 American dropleaf table, she told me asparagus
was the broom of the kidneys. I hadn't understood at first and
thought she'd used a German word I pictured as brüm and not as the
little stalks standing on their heads, sweeping out the impurities. I
learned to make the perfect roux for soufflé and became her
efficient assistant in the kitchen—dicing and chopping, she once
told me, with unparalleled patience. Then one day she began to
accidentally break my Depression glassware, and I recalled how
she'd giggled when she told me that in two years of marriage she
had single-handedly decimated her husband's glass collection
dating from 1790 to 1810, including a rare wedding goblet. In the
doorway to the back porch she stated simply that my presence
made her feel strangled, it was nothing I was doing or could do. We
saw a therapist for six years, while my collection dwindled then
became memory. With unparalleled patience I jumped through
hoop after burning hoop, the therapist pointed out, but I heard that
as praise for my prowess and continued to balance Bauer plates on
my nose on command; hold growling tigers off with Windsor dining
room chairs; juggle career, job, hope, and nightly tempests with
unparalleled dexterity. I could reassemble anything: shattered pictures
of us crossing the street with canes in the future, my hand under her
elbow. My heart. But what I lacked, I can see now, was the ability
to dissemble. Finally, she brought home a Cuisinart food processor,
and I started hearing the minutes slicing away with ferocious velocity,
time doing its soft-shoe faster and faster like Fred Astaire on
amphetamines. Memories of flowers and herbs were sacrificed to
the angry god of its vortex. Your voice is like acid on my skin, she
said after twelve years, then grabbed her Cuisinart and left me
behind like so much history.

Aleida Rodríguez, "History" from Garden of Exile.  Copyright © 1999 by Aleida Rodríguez.  Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books, Inc.
More Poems by Aleida Rodríguez