I remembered as I saw them. The poisoned dandelions. Long pale stems crawled in suburban grass-like arthritic snakes.
When they die naturally they stand tall until the ghosts of their sunburst heads bald to white nubs; then they lean to earth.
Looking at those poisoned dandelions I was back on the street of my childhood, where the short lawns grew down to cement sidewalks studded with coarse stones that reminded me of the raisin oatmeal my mother made at 4 a.m. for my father before he went to work in the factory where he wrote poems in his head as the machines roared around him before she made my sunny-side-up egg before she hugged me off to school before she went to work.
In a vacant lot at the end of our street, there was a field of dandelions. Tommy and I thought they were beautiful. One spring day we picked bunches of them for our mothers. The shaggy heads like yellow crayon strokes clustered against our fingers. The long stems sweated in our fists.
Tommy lived three houses down from me and was going to marry me when we grew up.
We stopped at his house first. His mother had her hair out of the pin curls she wore all day, under a scarf tied up with two points at the top. She combed the curls into tight dark waves with troughs between them, as if she’d pressed her fingers there. And she put on red lipstick and white powder. She did this after she bleach-washed the clothes on Monday, starch-ironed them on Tuesday, polished the furniture with lemon oil and swept the rug and scrubbed the floor, and Tommy and put the supper to cook every day before her husband came home from work.
Oh, she said don’t bring those messy weeds in here I’ve just cleaned the house. Tommy stood and held the drooping dandelions and did not speak. His face was white and bald. He did not come to my house with me.
My mother was looking a little wind-blown after she walked from the bus stop. Wild-haired, pink-cheeked, red-nosed.
Oh, she said how lovely. Let’s find a vase and put them on the table.
I did not understand then. Maybe I do now—a little. Truth is an untidy, shaggy thing.
I do not poison dandelions in my yard. I did not marry Tommy, so I don’t know if he does.
After receiving master’s and doctoral degrees in English from The University of Chicago, Ann Boaden returned to teach at her undergraduate college, Augustana (Illinois). Her work appears and/or is forthcoming in Another Chicago Magazine, Big Muddy, From SAC, Gingerbread House, Ginosko, Ink Babies, Litbreak, The Penwood Review, Persimmon Tree, Sediments, South Dakota Review, Teach, Write, Three Line Poetry, Tipton Poetry Journal, Torrid Literature, and The Windhover, among other journals. Her books include Light and Leaven: Women Who Shaped Augustana’s First Century, and the YA novel, Fritiof’s Story. In her joyfully misspent post-doc youth, she played a wobbly soprano in a five-person recorder group and enjoyed collaborating with musician friends on mini-musicals that dealt (loosely) with local history.
Her friend, Impey (pictured) does his best to regulate her life.