Wasteful Gesture Only Not

Ruth visits her mother’s grave in the California hills.
She knows her mother isn’t there but the rectangle of grass   
marks off the place where the memories are kept,

like a library book named Dorothy.
Some of the chapters might be: Dorothy:
Better Bird-Watcher Than Cook;

Dorothy, Wife and Atheist;
Passionate Recycler Dorothy, Here Lies But Not.
In the summer hills, where the tall tough grass

reminds you of persistence   
and the endless wind   
reminds you of indifference,

Ruth brings batches of white roses,
extravagant gesture not entirely wasteful   
because as soon as she is gone she knows
the deer come out of the woods to eat them.

What was made for the eye
goes into the mouth,
thinks Ruth to herself as she drives away,
and in bed when she tries to remember her mother,

she drifts instead to the roses,
and when she thinks about the roses she   
sees instead the deer chewing them—

pale petals of the roses in the dark   
warm bellies of the sleeping deer—
that’s what going to sleep is like.

Tony Hoagland, “Wasteful Gesture Only Not” from What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: What Narcissism Means to Me (2003)
More Poems by Tony Hoagland