Baby's Breath

Cynthia Zarin

No one could have expected it—least
of all me—which plant in the garden
              would grow the longest

tap root. “I’ll just be a minute,” 
I said, and stood the shovel in
              the ground, standing on it

like a stepladder, in the maple’s
surge of new painted leaves. I stove
              and dug. I left off the shovel

and with my hands began to pry
the thing up from the dirt. Five
              fingers clutched me back. Dry

scrapings gripped the ivy. And then
I remembered its name, Gypsophila,
              and thought of the children

grabbing my sleeve on the Ponte Sisto,
their bright rags like the regalia
              of leaves now dropped into

the garden, grasping and pulling
until I felt we would all fall
              together, drowned, mewling

into the Tiber, back through silt,
through bitumen, to the heart's burial
              in the earth, dense milk

white breath rising like clouds or
stars in the cold Roman air—
               like clouds, or like flowers.

Cynthia Zarin is the author of, most recently, Two Cities: Essays on Venice and Rome. Next Day, New and Selected Poems will be published next year.
Originally published:
October 1, 1999


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