Rebecca O’Bern


for Emily Dickinson, who lost her mother to a stroke, and who
meticulously catalogued her garden in a notebook for 46 years

They say tending an herbarium is the toughest
work a daughter will ever do, that its pages
of green vibrant plants can turn black and curl
in the corners at any moment (because life
can’t be weighed, catalogued, and slipped into
a notebook of stems and seeds as if a thing
that can be held), that a daughter has to wake
up one of these days and touch the dirt by the
headstone with her bare hands, press down
so deep that she carries the earth with her now
like a new fingerprint, a reminder that not all
flowers are perennials—that tending anything
alive makes fingers bruise, swell, wrists ache.

Rebecca O’Bern is associate poetry editor of Mud Season Review, has been published recently in Ample Remains and Buddhist Poetry Review, and tweets @rebeccaobern.