When Lilacs Last at My Townhouse Bloom’d

When lilacs last at my townhouse bloom’d
They’d burst open nightly by my door
with a purple smell that made me swoon.
Then, in the afternoon, I’d return to see
my mother-in-law had taken to them
with my cooking shears.
Because, in my disaster of a kitchen
those were all that she could find.
My house is hardly an English garden,
which is fine, since she’s French.

I’d return to my toddler girl and see
the crew cut my mother-in-law had given the bush.
The flat top with that smell, that smell just slightly dimmed.
On the kitchen table, she’d wrap those lilac locks
at their tender, hobbled, amputated roots
in wet paper towels and aluminum foil.
She’d give my baby a kiss, swing the door open,
and leave with the bounty piled in her arms.
Every spring for the three years she came
the same, and I’d stew because she never even asked.

Then we moved, and through the years another
lilac bush, it found us.
This morning, I am adamant.
We will gather some for my mother-in-law.
That baby she used to keep grew tall
and has started to wave me away with her own tree arms.
I stand back, peering through this year’s door
to the back of the courtyard, where the lilac waits,
saying, “Sister! Grab the cooking shears and take
my children to the woman who shouldn’t have to ask.”


Sally Toner has been living, teaching high school English, and writing in the Washington DC area for almost twenty years. Her fiction has been published in Gargoyle Magazine and Defying Gravity, a compilation of writing by women in the Washington DC area.

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