In Search of My Mother’s Gardens – Rachael Ikins

Most of my ‘mom’ memories:
Reading in the garden.
Attacking dandelions with a Valkurie’s fury, a tool she loved just for that. Every house she lived in she planted gardens.

Annual mulch ceremony,
Burlap sacks of cocoa hulls or ground corncobs in a redolent heap.
My dad hoisted one into her cart.
As days passed she worked her way with coffee can and cart
while I was at school
each seedling comforted, safe from weeds and summer sun.

Not from the neighbor’s chickens.
I still hear her wail, all the baby zinnias, carnage and crying.

Autumn frost prediction,
another ceremony: bringing in the tender annuals. I came home from school to find every available end- table and counter corner peppery with the orange and red fragrance. Years later I learned marigolds are offerings to the goddess, Kali, the bringer of life and destruction. Maybe my mother was a goddess.

She absorbed herself in ritual, staking peonies, cutting back perennials, harvesting vegetables,
Filling a freezer full to last all winter.

At 85, thin as a stalk of corn, scarred left deltoids wasted from a fall that almost killed her, in turquoise bermuda shorts and a sleeveless top. Leaning on her dandelion killer.

I always wondered
if she saw me,
Was I invisible?

When I was four, I sat on the barn step and wet my pants while she knelt, her back to me, digging in some iris. I was too afraid
to leave her, to go inside even though I knew how to use the big toilet. Afraid if I had, all that would remain of her was a cast-off sneaker and a trowel,
my sobbing as I clawed my way through the foliage
to try to follow.

When I drive past our house today
I see that the people who bought it
have a dog. Installed Invisible Fence right smack down the middle of her best perennial bed.

They painted the barn green.
As for me, I seek my mother in my own garden, digging my own roots,
and yes, she is here.


Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, prize-winning author/artist with 9 books. Syracuse University grad, member CNY branch NLAPW, and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn, NY. Her new memoir Eating the Sun a love story narrative punctuated by poetry and garden recipes available 4/2019 at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

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