Spring Resurrects

Strawberry shoots, signs of life, play peek-a-boo in the leaves I spread before the snow fell. Last time I saw Mom, she was tethered to an oxygen converter. A few days later, she was in hospital, hooked up to monitors and a morphine drip. I prefer to think of her here, greening-up from within the strawberry plants she gave me years ago. She always loved arithmetic—adding up her tidy rows of numbers, carrying remainders. Perfect calculations. There is comfort in knowing that each spring I’ll find Mom multiplying and dividing her strawberry plants across the garden, multiplying and dividing.


When I walk past a mirror or quickly sift through old photographs, I assume it’s me I see. But sometimes it’s my mother. Always the trickster jumping out, scaring the bejeezus out of us—whoopee cushions on the kitchen chair, a giant plastic spider beneath the pillow. This tendency towards mischief we share showed up in my son early on—ketchup packets under the toilet seats, my handwriting impeccably forged (ice cream, poop wafers) on the grocery list, flour on the keyboard to decode a password. Harmless disruptions of the mundane.

Mom always kept us well fed. She still surprises me when I flip through my favourite recipes and see her treats in her slanted cursive—tangy rhubarb crisp, zucchini bread, Grandma Thibault’s apple pudding. I was her shadow in the cramped orange kitchen of my childhood. I stood on the stool as she showed me how to make mustard beans, pickled beets, stewed tomatoes. Thanks to Mom, my pantry brims. Eventually, she will feed her great-grandchildren and theirs.

I dig up two strawberry plants for my little brother so he’ll always find Mom in his garden when he needs her. Plus, strawberries are his favourite. Mom loved to give gifts that, like here, keep giving and giving. A twinge of sorrow tugs at my heart, but the pull of joy is stronger. Mom will never abandon us. She’s in the shape of my hands and muscular calves. In my cousin’s smile, and the way she holds her cigarette. If I search hard enough, I can find Mom in everyone I love.


Soon, Mom’s earthly body will leave us, but I’ll find her multiplying and dividing in the strawberry patch each spring. She’ll remind me that she never actually left by multiplying ruses, divvying up signs that prove she’ll always remain. Disguised as a crow’s cackle moments after I stumble and hope nobody saw, she’ll keep me humble. A decade from now, her laughter will echo in my grandchildren’s as they snort and slap their knees. In my late fifties, I’ll see her more and more in my reflection—jowls beginning to sag, doughy folds draping my cheeks. I won’t even be surprised when she replaces me. I’ll open wide my mouth, expose every tooth and let loose the laugh she could never contain.

Rachel Laverdiere

Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in her little house on the Canadian prairies. She is CNF editor at Atticus Review and the creator of Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s most recent publications in Bending Genres, Five South, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Grain and other fine literary journals. In 2020, her CNF made The Wigleaf Top 50 and was nominated for Best of the Net. For more, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.

Dead Man’s Mountain

It was very late.  Mildred Sowers listened to the cold February wind.  It blew up Snake Hollow hard against the house and rattled the windows.  She sat in an easy chair by the woodstove and watched the flames as they flickered and danced around the lonely little room.  Faces of the people she had loved stared down from the walls in framed black and white photographs.  She was old, ninety-one and she had trouble sleeping.  Often she would sit up most of the night just waiting on Clarence.

Below the house, Snake Run wound its icy way down the through the mountains to Big Furnace Creek passed the cemetery at Furnace Creek Baptist where all her people were, the people in the pictures on the wall.  She’d lived there in the hollow all her life.  Joanne and Betty Lou were born in the house, right upstairs over her head.  They were getting old now too and had children and grandchildren of their own.  That’s the way things go, she thought.  They were all out in Tennessee and she hardly ever saw them.

There was only her sister Pauline to come visit and take her to church and to town on Sundays.  Mildred Sowers looked forward to seeing her sister every week.  Except for Sundays, and an occasional phone call, she might go for days on end and not speak to a living soul.  Still, she always had Clarence to keep her company and she was used to being alone.  Old people have to get used to being by themselves.  It’s just a fact.  The older you get the more you live inside your own head.

She reached over and stuck another stick of wood in the firebox.  Then, she leaned back and closed her eyes.  “Mildred, you really need to think about moving into town.  That new nursing home is a wonderful place and everybody says the food is real good.  You’d have friends there and folks to help you.”  Pauline was always after her to move, but she wouldn’t know what to do without her little house, without her mountain looking down on her and the comfort and security of Snake Hollow.  You can’t just up and change the ways of a lifetime.  No, as long as she could put one foot in front of the other she was determined to stay where she was, where she belonged.

The clock on the mantel struck four.  It was Clarence’s mother’s clock.  It had told the correct time for seventy some years without ever winding down.  In one way, the old timepiece reminded her of herself and her life.  She wound it faithfully every week just the way that Clarence used to do.  She could almost see him doing it.  He wasn’t a tall man.  He’d have to stand on his tiptoes to wind it.  He was a good man though, honest and hard working.  Everybody liked him.  If anybody ever needed any help they knew they could depend on Clarence.

The spirits rode the wind on nights like this, all of the spirits of the mountains.  Some folks would say that a soul never really leaves these old hollows.  Mildred Sowers wasn’t sure she believed it, but it was a comforting thought in a way.  After all, nobody knows exactly what Heaven will be like.  Even at ninety-one, it was hard enough just to try and make sense of this life without worrying about the next.  She didn’t know why she was permitted to live so long and why Clarence was taken away so young.  He was only forty-nine. That’s not long enough to live.  Still, they did have that precious time together.  She imagined his spirit aloft in the mountains, moving through the dark forest, riding the wind.

If he was coming it was nearly time.  It would soon be dawn…She listened for the sound of his boots coming up the front porch steps.  You could always tell Clarence’s footsteps.  He always walked heavy.  Mildred Sowers listened expectantly, but all she heard was the wind and the crackling of the fire.

James William Gardner

Author of, “DEEP AUGUST: Short Stories from the American South,” James William Gardner writes extensively about the contemporary southland. The writer explores aspects of southern culture often overlooked: the downtrodden, the impoverished and those marginalized by society. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Gardner is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and lives in Roanoke, Virginia. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Deep South Magazine, Newfound Journal and The Virginia Literary Journal.

The Dangers of Dancing So Close to the Sun

I was born under a fish-scaled star, a scar in my aunt’s

brother’s father’s eye. Is this a bone I see, or ash dust

inherited, a silent twin inhabiting my ventricles?

The prima-donna sky preens, sends us lightning sprites

red and too quick to capture. I was walking. I was a whole

lot of broken, and snap, there goes my ankle. The moss

spoke of spring-like January, but the camera didn’t

hit the deep-rutted trail, held close to my heart. My

mornings are voluptuous, my miscalculations disguised

as happy accidents. I believe in my grandfather’s third

kidney, the way he lived through the work of shifting

one pile of stones to another corner of the barbed

and electrified yard, and back again until the sirens sounded

the end of light. Today I discovered a new species

of beetle, a bee who loved my shirt and wouldn’t leave.

The wind issuing from god’s mouth was warm. The wind

issuing from god’s mouth chilled me to the bone. The grass

was god’s also, and Matisse’s cat dreamt of Marianne

Moore with crooked wings. The moon is in umbra, the moon

is menopausal, and time makes less sense than it did

five seconds ago. I will haunt the stars I can’t touch

right now. Every turtle galaxy, every swan-booted nebula

now my problems have been all but solved. I put my nose

to the sweet pea, to the whetstone, and learned something

of the extermination of the human race. I pray my father’s

father’s sisters, who flew through the chimneys, knit

their souls back into body when the stars call us away from here.

Ronda Piszk Broatch

Ronda Piszk Broatch is the author of Lake of Fallen Constellations, (MoonPath Press). She is the recipient of an Artist Trust GAP Grant. Ronda’s journal publications include Fugue, Blackbird, 2River, Sycamore Review, Missouri Review, Palette Poetry, and NPR News / KUOW’s All Things Considered. She is a graduate student working toward her MFA at Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop.

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