Sunday, February 8, 2009

Iris Luckenbill Fitzgerald - 02/08/07 - 01/21/89

Iris Luckenbill, 2nd from right, front row.


On May 11, nineteen thirty-four,
you and Dad bought a house
in a small town in Indiana.
On the Mother's Day that followed
he planted a lilac bush. Perhaps
he said, "Happy Mother's Day!"
Then, in forty-nine, he died on you.


One summer's day in seventy-two --
I was thirty-two, you were sixty-five --
you asked if I'd prune the lilac.
I went out back to look.
Twelve, fourteen-feet tall.
Thick with stems.
Some around the edge drooping,
almost laying flat on the ground;
some violating the garden's space.
I went up to the hardware and bought a saw.
I came back. You squinted
into a bright afternoon; you shaded
your eyes with a salute of a hand.
I sawed away.
"This one too, don't you think?"
you'd say. I said it was up to you,
to just tell me what you wanted me to do.


Twenty years ago we chose a lilac dress for you.
On an amazingly warm January day
my five brothers and I bore you to your grave.
Our three sisters looked on and cried.
The priest intoned some intonations.
He sprinkled water onto the casket
with an aspergillum.
And then it was done.
I did not want to turn and go,
did not want to leave you there.
I did though,
and as I did I saw
the gravediggers across the way;
leaning against the back of a pickup truck,
waiting for the seventy of us to leave.
They had work to do;
it was just a job to them.


Here's what's come to mind today:
Your pies were the world's best,
as perfect as T.S. Eliot's poems,
and no one else's crust comes close.
"Don't work the dough too much," you'd instruct.
Only you, though, seemed to know
how much is too much.
And what I wouldn't give for one of your
from-scratch chocolate cakes with that icing
that was flavored with stale coffee.
And I'd love some of your fried chicken;
I can see you prepping it,
shaking it in a brown paper bag
into which you'd put seasonings and flour.
And I think of your gardens,
your year after year after year gardens,
your straight and disciplined rows of onions,
of lettuce, of beans, of tomatoes and of corn.
And I think of your hair, always in a bun,
except when it was being washed or dried --
dried sometimes in the summer sun.


The house ended up in my name.
Five years ago I sold it to my brother Jim.
We made a deal: 5 lump sums, 5 annual payments.
He asked, "What day to you want them payments due?"
"Doesn't matter to me," I said to him.
"How's about we make them due on the
eighth of February ... that way I'll never forget."


The lilac bush is still there.
I still have that saw, too, by the way;
it's a good one.


I think this poem could use some pruning.
Some of my lines are drooping I suspect,
some are laying almost flat on the ground.
"This one, too, don't you think?"
I might say to myself.
But no. Enough's enough.
I'm closing this notebook;
I'm putting it on my notebook shelf.

My mother, drying her hair in the sun, 1972,
in front of lilac bush.


  1. sr. m.c. (u always liked small caps)
    i enjoyed your tribute poem to iris of mentone. it brought back memories of those couple visits to her/your cute little dwelling. was it the metropolitan you had then or the next larger nash? i don't remember. i wonder if iris and clarence only a year older have run into each other as the indiana contingency gathers for a reunion. she may have met cfh as he arrived exactly six months later. rox

  2. Thanks Rox - I never had a Metropolitan; they were a bit before my car-buying time; mine was a 1962 red Rambler convertible, white top, red leather seats ... cool! One later Nash I had in Ann Arbor had both side rear windows broken out and it was winter but the heater was so excellent that it didn't matter that the windows were missing!

  3. George, Beautiful, brings back a lot of memories. Gerald

  4. What a Read! Thanks George. Love you. Sheila

  5. Thank you Uncle George, I can see and hear Grandma Fitz as if I saw her just yesterday. Liz