national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014


Emily Geris  • 
Macalester College

Grandma drove with shade-tolerant plants in her car
to fill the beds of mulch sulking in our yard.
The hostas with their white-veined fronds
crumbled dirt in the trunk. She came for the transplant
excised her garden of the goddamn mutants that choked her lilies.


She brought orchid bulbs wrapped in wet paper,
scooped a bezel for them in the dirt, her hand
a conch shell. They mimicked chickpeas
with their wet eyes and cornea skin.
Hear the kernel roll in the dirt, the descent
into its mote, when you swallow a sob or just after.


Grandma let her thumbnails grow longer
than any other finger. She wore a gold
thumb ring and our dirt as she pinched
a hosta bloom. It hung like a lavender
gourd and frilled its mouth as if to suck clean
her cuticles. She packed dirt around the tangle
of roots. She covered buttermilk cake with a bell jar.


The next year a child picks the orchid
with the urgency of a dandelion
and uproots the bulb’s unripe brain.
I gape, an orange scissor hanging from my thumb
for stem-snipping. I wasn’t fast enough.
The bulb tugs at the stem as roots rustle
like newborn hairs on a garlic clove, my heart
cold and craving. She smiles at her harvest,
pokes the yellowing bulb and says,
“Grandma’s flower grew a baby onion!”
Eve and the plucking, but I keep quiet:
she is my sister, she won’t inherit the concept of falling.


Our mother settles the bulb back into the ground
restores the perennial, finds the button
that reanimates the hands of a watch.


Instead of looking at orchid bulbs
and seeing testicles, Grandma called them kernels.
She remembers margarine came with a pellet
of yellow dye the sisters had to mash
into the white block before breakfast
company arrived. I never knew what lumped
in my throat, thought if I swallowed hard
enough at dinner it would catch on a spear
of asparagus and like all things disappear
past the esophageal cells, a pink tangle
of Virginia creeper. I obliqued my words
around that kernel long enough to classify
it Polygonatum, or Solomon’s Seal
(sprout time of two years):
a voice box not to be swallowed but opened.