by Ann Fisher-Wirth
First marriage, first party, first apartment.
I invited our boss the principal, and his wife,
both from the States, who I wished would
ask us over but who never did, so that
sometimes I cried after lunch in the bathroom
at school. On a concrete ledge beside the bed
in the one-room apartment, I placed
candles and a potted white chrysanthemum,
marked down at Delhaize, where I bought
haché de boeuf for my special meatloaf
and red-black wine in a plastic bottle.
At seven, when the guests arrived, I started
cooking the meatloaf and making apple pie.
In the pocket-sized kitchen, I finished the pie
and fixed the salad as my husband and guests
drank that wine, gazing despondently
out the window at the barges on the Meuse.
We ate at half past ten. The meatloaf
was a failure, the hardboiled eggs baked
in the meatloaf had turned rubbery and gray,
the wine could peel paint. My husband
struggled to keep up conversation.
The principal’s wife smirked, said, Oh my,
you don’t know about the chrysanthemums?
. . .
But why smirk at my flowers—even if,
as I learned, they were leftovers marked down
after All Souls’ Day, intended only to decorate
graves? My father died when I was fifteen,
when the spider chrysanthemums
in my parents’ back yard were blooming,
white feathery petals trailing in the mud
after the autumn rains. And since then it always
seemed to me that white chrysanthemums
blooming among rain-soaked shadows
were like the beautiful ghost
in the film of a Noh play that my father once
took me to see, the ghost that appears at twilight
by a temple, to the wanderer in a far country.