Whoever Wrote, Rest Assured, A Peace Lilly is Not a Gift that will Become a Burden, Was Wrong

by Karen Paul Holmes
Not its fault it honored a harpy, the lily thrives despite
the sticky honeydew of scales—brown bugs
dot stems and leaf veins, looking like bumps
or toasted sesame seeds rather than living things. 
My fingernail can scrape them off, but there are so many. 
Too many! Twice, it took me half an hour, 
and each time, I only saw more, my fingers gummy
with bodies and their excretions.

Still, chartreuse shoots unfurl into their deep green
lanceolate shapes. Sometimes new white flags wave.
I call them flowers, though technically spathes
such an ugly word for something as loving as surrender. 
The flags tell me to be peaceful with the infliction. 
With the way the plant was inflicted on me
after my partner died, leaving me
to do more than babysit this mute, unwanted pet, 
a gift someone sent him in memory of his mother. 

He cared for it, though he didn’t much care for her, 
who never stopped scorning him for leaving the church
where his dad had brimstoned. The church
that cherished guilt, meted out by the bushel. 
Still, the damned son carried her casket. 
I sat in a small-minded pew, hands in lap, no ring
to tie me to her. The one time she and he and I tried 
to meet, she didn’t show—it was too cold outside. 

Google told me, Discard a heavily infested plant, 
but I’ve tried to honor it these four years. Maybe its cruel
fate is to cope with insects sucking its essence. 
I have told the lily I will water, turn it to the light it loves,
cut off yellow leaves. I have explained
I can no longer tackle stickiness. Will not scrub again
with mild soapy water each leaf on at least fifty stems. 
I have a kind nature but I’m not always kind.
Like me, this hardy, forgiving plant will have to fend
for itself, knowing some things just won’t leave. 

About the author

Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry books, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich, 2014). Her poems have been featured on The Writer's Almanac and The Slowdown. Publications include Diode, Valparaiso Review, Verse Daily, and Prairie Schooner, and many more. Holmes founded and hosts the Side Door Poets and a monthly reading with open mic. She's the 2022 Tweetspeak “Poet Laura.”

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