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Refugees in the Garden

by Sharon Dunn

Winters I nestled in snow caves
and Anna kept an eye on me
out the kitchen window. I dug my cave
near the doctors’ garage, steam-heated
and twelve stalls long. Drain pipes plumed
and pocked the snow, and I breathed
hot rusty smells, the scent familiar:
the way air could turn dangerous inside our house.
Come spring, the pipes dried up
and I saw black mouths, guns on watch
along the clapboard wall. And it was here
in the building’s long shadow, hidden from view
that Anna made her garden
on the narrow strip between garage
and the fence that bordered us from town.
The garden faced northeast toward Latvia.

Every afternoon she worked land
that wasn’t hers, in a country
that could never be home.
Each year she claimed another stall’s
worth, pitched her fork to pry out
heavy New Hampshire stones.
She was the first woman I saw sweat,
it gleamed off her round arm muscles,
down her thick neck.

I had my own plot, three by four.
She showed me how to set heel
against shovel, thrust and turn
rock out of the earth.
We worked in silence.
We never talked about the war
that brought her to this place
and we never talked about my father:
we gardened against our histories.

Come August Anna aproned
emerged from the kitchen
to set out in front of us platters
of fat tomatoes, red as blood,
and tiny ears
of sweet stunted corn.


Sharon Dunn’s poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Embers, Confrontation, and elsewhere. She lives in Leverett, Massachusetts. (1989)

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