A Moment ©Kathee Miller (All Rights Reserved)
An eighty-year-old shut-in living in an apartment in the middle of Isla Vista,
A town filled with young, impressionable minds taking in knowledge,
open mouths imbibing beer, and immortally blonde,
taut, tanned bodies riding to and fro on a well-worn path,
past Minnie’s apartment, to campus and home again.
it was only a job while I attended school
And, at that time, a job was all it really meant to me.
I dusted her house, fed her a meal, and watered her plants.
On her “good days,” she would tell me stories about her youth
and her cataract-thickened eyes would smile, gleam,and dance
as though she were seventeen again and still being courted.
who went to church every Sunday,
a church, he told me, that “didn’t ordain black men as priests.”
He was the only human being, other than I, who conversed with Minnie.
And I think she was secretly in love with him,
for she described him as “that handsome creature”
and called him, occasionally, by her husband’s name—
the name of a man who had died twenty years before I met her.
the vision of a muscular young lover with skin like dark honey--her sole company,
and I realized it was for this dream that an old, Southern belle
awakened each morning, moving her glazed, rheumy eyes
and arthritically twisted torso toward the narrow streams of sunlight
that flooded her half-lidded windowpanes.
It is her plants I picture still—tucked away in a corner of her apartment
as Minnie was tucked away in the corner of a burgeoning student ghetto.
There on her cluttered, formica kitchen table near a tiny, attic-style window
Minnie had planted her cactus garden.
A cluster of succulents resided there–in brown, plastic pots– spilling over the table on all sides–
so many that the miserly light from that dust-covered window could barely accommodate all.
that captured my undivided attention.
Shoved in a claustrophobic, dingy, and cobwebbed corner,
this member of Minnie’s menagerie hadn’t nearly the photosynthetic opportunities
so generously granted to those whose luck or fate had given them a spot in the sunlight.
had shoved this poor fellow into his trench of dust, cobwebs and debris,
hoping he might disappear altogether–yet this cactus had survived.
developing malformed bumps, odd protrusions, and disturbing bends in places
where like his peers he might have been tall, sleek, cylindrical and even statuesque.
But I had the distinct desire—upon watering him—to place him in the light,
To shift one of his more fortunate brothers to that dark,
cavernous area of the table where
he had so long endured, uncared-for and ignored.
dwarf of a plant, and I never moved him from his original place in the shadows,
for I discovered that he had developed a “terrible beauty”* living there—
that those bumps, protrusions and bends all were a part of his own unnatural liberty.
of a poverty which had nourished rather than killed the spirit that fed from it.
Minnie gave me that cactus as a present just before she died.
He was never able to live long in the bright streams
of sunlight that poured into my open room,
and bends that have formed my own path in life—a path forged
without a father’s guidance or the strength of a mother’s calloused hand
to pull me out of the cavernous darkness.
whose predictable curves seem—at least to me—much the same.
But I have found my place in the light; and I have survived there,
knowing that the way I have made is all the more beautiful
for the poverty that nourished its own unnatural liberty.
I think of that perished cactus that I used to tend in darkness;
I stand, carefully arranging that dusty corner of Minnie’s kitchen garden,
while in the background, I hear the energetic whiz of bicycle wheels
still blazing a path toward the demanding clang of university bells;
and I feel—in the depths of my belly—the echoing, liberated laugh
of a seventeen-year-old Southern girl.
*This phrase from “Easter 1916” by William Butler Yeats