• Reader, I

    Corey Van Landingham

    Spring 2023

    had grown skeptical of line. Of stern procession down a page’s blue rule. Malmaison’s perfumed rows the Empress marched down—Rosa Centifolia, Rosa Lucida—while her husband’s flotilla lapped toward Trafalgar. Of the jealous descent. I had cast off such impossible realms—near Diamond Head, on an un-seasonably cool August morning, Gloria, great-aunt, finally let go the material world forty minutes after father was lifted from his last bed. Then I shared the blood of three still-breathings. Lone quatrain, us. Who mostly didn’t speak, or write. All to say—when I attended the teeming wedding feasts, the high school graduations from yet another Cleveland cousin, the austere Catholic masses full of him, I softened, a bit, my stance. Signed my name inside his family Bible, though I didn’t believe. Seventeen casseroles sent post-surgery, reliable piles of Christmas cards. In the frozen cemetery, enough small talk to cancel out a whole sad self. When I glanced, after, the sprawling hand-drawn tree from which he came, I thought of shallow roots. And the women of Greece mourning, each year, mortal Adonis. Reader, some say they were a simple people, who believed in mere symbols, gods of corn. They planted—in the quick, festive flush of summer heat—fennel and barley in terracotta shards. “Gardens of Adonis” they called these small, short-flourishing graves, and when on the eighth day the false flowers withered the women flung them to the sea. Imagine—their dead that present. Listening. So when I make the small cut, insert the orange-flowering Arizona into our disease-resistant, winter-sturdy Wife of Bath, I say a little prayer. Beautiful, brief Adonis—forgive me my hubris, this dreamy cultivar, this mingled seed. We wrap grafting tape around the rose’s wound. Wife now, I see it. The fresh lesion of two.

    Corey Van Landingham is the author of Antidote and Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens, and Reader, I, which is forthcoming from Sarabande Books in 2024. She teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.

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