Poetry Porch: Forgiveness


The Housewarming Gift 
by Rebecca Seiferle 

My sister came bearing 
the ceramic leopard I’d admired in her house,
        a new plant rooted in its hollow back, a tree
                blanketed with miniature red 
                        and yellow peppers, a lovely
                                poisonous cloud.
The color of the leopard was all wrong;
        the peppers could not be eaten.
                Yet I threw open gladly
                        the doors of my new house
                                and welcomed
her family, our sister Rachel, our mother,
        as if to some sacred feast,
                the air rich with the scent
                        of wine and roasting meat,
                                as if the leopard
were a picturesque pet
that would ask nothing of me.

It took a week for the whiteflies to appear,
hundreds hatching out of the soil of resentment,
        the porcelain sweating 
                with stolen honey.
                        In their immature forms, the bright green
                                nymphs colonized
the underside of every leaf.
        Then, winged, 
                a white and fluttering drift, their bodies
                        like grains of salt poisoning the fields, 
                                they became 
a scattering 
        multitude, almost invisible, 
                like dust motes swirling in sunlight, 
                        or the mote that is only visible
                                when lodged in another’s eye.
Finally nothing was left of the plant but the knot
of root like a buried fist clenching 

its clump of negation, 
and the trunk like a spindle rising
        from an ancient curse. 
                No matter how many cleansings
                        of chlorox or clouds of poison rain,
                                the whiteflies always came back, surviving
persistent as hatred or malice
        that wedges itself into the smallest cracks
                of an apparently serene surface:
                        a face smoothed into pleasantries,
recurring like the resentment
        that Nietzsche saw spinning the wheel
                of Christian life. Given the name of suffering, 
                        “Mary” for “bitter root,”
                                my sister would have done anything
to shine in our father’s eyes, though what I envied 
was how she bathed

in the eternal warmth 
of our mother’s gaze. 
        Haloed in sunlight, 
                beneath the clothesline, she colonized
                        the kingdoms of the lawn
                                with plastic soldiers
and defeated my brother
        so quietly, plotting 
                with such stealth 
                        that my mother pointed to her
                                as the very image
of goodness. As if
        passivity were goodness,
                as if the appearance
                        of peace were 
I should have known that one who claimed to want nothing
but to be

a rocking horse would become
a sender of wooden horses, a dealer
        in plundered pots, a subterfuge 
                of broken angels, bearing 
                        the unending gifts:
                                malice, envy, despair.
The whiteflies that invaded my new garden 
        had plundered her home 
                for decades, every transplant 
                        curdling. And, five years later,
                                on any morning, I am still battling
the yellowed leaves, the branches sticky
        with the leak of their own lives. 
                In the garden, the past lives on 
                        in the whiteflies, swarming 
                                like dust in a whirlwind, 
like the dust of the grinding wheel
to which Samson was leashed in Gaza

like the dust in which the accusation is written, 
like the dust that throws the first stone, like the dust
        in which the one who keeps vigil 
                lies down and goes to sleep,
                        until the right hand 
                                knoweth not 
what the left hand 
        doeth. Here, every morning, I think of 
                my sister and the lost paradise 
                        of childhood:
                                in that ruined kingdom, 
vengeance grows wings,
        and rises up 
                in forms as numerous 
                        as the angelic hosts
                                to drain away 
the sweetness, 
even the sweetness of the heart. 

Copyright © 1999 by Rebecca Seiferle