FIDDLEHEADS

Each May I walked the ground along Bull Run
seeking fiddleheads.
Returning home with my bag of ferns,
I’d blow the papery layer off,
then steam them. Their perfume filled the house
with a scent I dream of still.
I’d arrange the stems and
whorled tops on a painted plate
and drizzle them with hollandaise.
Sitting on the porch with fiddleheads and wine,
I’d watch the sun set and
celebrate surviving another Vermont winter.
The feast made it impossible to believe
the world less than
perfect.

Each May I return to that riverside
to walk and pick and steam again
those green ferns in my mind
savor days feasting on found food
before wine and wanting tangled life.

It was a small New England town
I taught English to farm kids.
Summers I sold crafts to tourists from a one-room school
with Gretchen Crookshank, 80, all gossip, elegance
and jangling bracelets and the nervous
mother-son pair from Center Street, whose handmade
hats looked machine-made.
I studied knitting with a Norwegian neighbor and
spinning at the Hoffman’s farm.
Barbara, the bus driver, struggled to get her rabbits
to mate – tales of candlelight and music in the barn
defied myths of rabbit reproduction.
I made spending money as a night librarian.
I had kind friends.
My husband loved me.

Each May I return to that riverside
to select ferns
and steam them once again
to think on the turns
that took me far from fiddleheads
and the small town that held them.

A town I left to wander
from school to ski resort to Fortune 500 corporation –
another marriage and a family
South to Jersey then further still to
Carolina mountains where high along the Blue Ridge
we built a home with our own hands
board by slow board – designing as we went our nest
which, when it fell, almost toppled me as well.
But I had a son to raise and
clothes that needed washing
dinners to cook, a dog to walk
I learned that women hold the world together.
I moved back to the rumble of Interstates and 18 wheelers
where a red-tailed hawk glimpsed early
could hold me the entire day.

Each May I look northward
dream of fiddleheads
along Bull Run
remember pale iris in the yard,
where nightly trains
run whistling by.

Cynthia M. Sheward