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Sheila Wellehan

Up and Down

It’s isn’t hard, you just pull them up,
my cousin said, as I admired the armful of lush
lily of the valley bouquets she carried,

and marveled at the labor required
to harvest thousands of flowers.
My land is covered with them.

I didn’t do anything but pull them up.
My sister picked out the ribbon,
and tied them up all nice and pretty.

The May morning was the hottest we’d have all year.
The temperature passed 95 at noon,
extracting the lilies’ scent,

intensifying and dispersing it,
turning the cemetery
into a fragrant perfume factory.

Soon, it was time to let the lilies fall into the ground.
It was time, and then it was past time,
but still we stood sweltering in the sun,

wishing we could swap spring suits and silk dresses
for shorts and t-shirts or swimsuits,
as we waited for the mourning family to be ready.

The woman in the casket left long ago.
Those who loved her best could not believe it,
could not bear it,

could not lower her down.


I reeled at the dead body in the distance.
As I crept closer, I saw the carcass was a deer
shoved roughly out of the clearing
behind the dump by a town snowplow.

Her burial ground was an impenetrable thicket,
bamboo spears and honeysuckle hugged by bittersweet.
Coyotes tore at her carcass unnoticed.
She was a skeleton long before spring.

I removed beer cans tossed at her in hot weather
as her frame fell apart and disappeared.
My mutineer dogs took part in the desecration,
I found rib bones in the back of my car.

I had to peer more and more intensely into the bramble
to see her. By September, only a skull remained.
Wild chrysanthemums bloomed from one eye socket –
now her flowers hang from my chandelier.

➥ Bio