In the vegetable patch, a fallen tree branch. Underneath it, crushed parsley, green onion sprigs, snow peas. I work without gloves and the soil, moist and dark, clumps in my fingernails. After the storm, assorted weeds and clusters of clover sprout through the gravel. When pulled, they release easily. I think of my grandfather, who was a farmer and a patient man, and his daughter, my mother, who nurtures plants, children and life with impossible ease. At my grandfather’s house, we always walked barefoot, indoors and out, and in the fields and woods, we touched soil, plants and weeds with bare hands.
I am not a nurturer. The yard has more deck and gravel than plants. Another year, and the weeping cherry has refused to bloom. In the lemon tree is a vacant hummingbird’s nest, abandoned in the midst of the storm when the wind became violent. I look into the nest, and it’s clean except for bits of white that cling to its insides, and then I notice the tree limb is partially severed. I look at the gravel beneath the tree for a speck of brown or pink, whatever a featherless chick might look like, but the gravel is many confusing colors.
Inside the house, my daughter, 12, is doing homework at the dining table. I place a bunch of parsley, a cutting of rosemary, and some mint leaves on the table. She looks up from a paper with printed questions on ratios. Mom, mom, she says playfully. Such moments when she expresses open affection are fewer. Lately there are more arguments, and at her age, the arguments land like stumbling blows, often appallingly foolish. I respond with arguments that are precise and sharp. As I look at her, I think: she is a child, I should do better. I must act with restraint, with kindness. In the bathroom, at the sink, muddy water drips from my hands. When my fingernails are clean, the water runs clear, and even with the chipped nail polish my hands look fresh and healthy. In the mirror I observe my face that with age has become wider, squarer. When I was young I did not know life would bring so many trials and failings, that I would forgive myself so often, that I would pick myself up, and try again, and again.
AMY OLASSA — Amy is from India and lives in the Bay Area. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California. She is an alumna of the Community of Writers, Tin House Workshop and was a 2018 Fellow at the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Her work has been featured in the Oyster River Pages, Aster(ix) Journal and Jellyfish Review.
Art by AUDRA KERR BROWN — Audra is a writer, photographer, and creator of The Flashtronauts! YouTube channel. Follow her on Twitter: @audrakerrbrown.