SELF-PORTRAIT AS KUDZu
— Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr.
This family has long been in these parts.
Our past recedes into another past
like wagon tracks beside the paved road,
collecting dead leaves and Krystal cups,
but not like that old arrowhead
found in the gully out back when
I dirtied nails digging just to pass the time.
Our roots spread from cemetery oak
to schoolyard post to smokehouse,
climb water tower, steeple, and powerline.
Did the first arrive with a tin can
or with a stack of green incentives
from that new-century government?
Or with a basket, a housewarming gift,
sweet as grandma’s country kitchen?
She wore long black hair and dyed it
her whole life until it fell off in clumps.
Then she snuffed the leftover gray
with curly brown wigs, half-off.
Then it grew back all white
when she couldn’t remember
when it wasn’t anything but.
As she’d wish, I shade her headstone
to hide her real age from passers-by.
We ride by flowers we think follow the sun’s arc
by the hour, but each time we pass them,
they’ve turned away from us. I’m here on a tour
from a friend’s army base up the road.
Among us: a man-on-leave who already got drunk
at the wine tasting and his wife who poses
for every picture in a Florentine straw hat until
it sails from her head down a row of vines.
She reminds me of what I could be if I cared enough,
if I let spirits uplift me like an American flag,
but I’m here because I’ve tired of that backyard view
where small animals haul ivy between their teeth,
reorganizing their nests like pictures on a wall.
In one state, I’ve moved the same print
through four apartments: its Arles sky and dotted fields
like these Tuscan farmers have replanted
with sunflowers to make oil for the season of Lent.
Back home, my oils dry in their metal tubes;
the easel leans, folded in a corner. Another man
has left my body’s wick for a case of wine.
I’ve packed his books and sent them to his mother,
who will read them next to his hospital bed.
The wife now boasts that she ships her husband
boxes of tissue—a luxury where he’s stationed.
We’ve grown quiet, our heads heavy in the afternoon.
Later, I will read that only younger blooms
count the days like a slow transgression, whereas
the mature are content to face one direction.
But here, the landscape breathes like the sea
before a storm, and I am no part of it—
any more than the one who’ll stumble back
to his desert tent, or the painter who returns,
every night, to a memory inside a locked room.
Emily A. Benton is—as a kind nurse recently reminded her—very far from home. Originally from Tennessee, she has lived and worked in Hawai'i since 2012. Her poems appear in journals such as ZYZZYVA, Southern Poetry Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Radar Poetry, and Hawai'i Review. A graduate of the MFA Writing Program at UNC Greensboro, she is an assistant poetry editor for storySouth. She also co-organizes a monthly reading series, MIA Honolulu