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To Bloom in Ashtabula

02 April, 2016: To Bloom in Ashtabula


by Kathleen Gallagher

To Bloom in Ashtabula

[A poem written after a visit to my lake hometown]

Grandpa called it bud-blast.
“Them Ashtabula peonies only got two eyes –
supposed to have three. Cold weather’ll kill ‘em.”
I had no idea our backyard flowers
stemmed from some epic where Zeus, saving Paean
from the wrath of Asclepius would become one:
A bright-eyed God of Healing.
In those slumbering eyes
dozed the salvation of a million warriors—
All I saw were the pesky king-size black ants
we plucked and placed in old mason jars,
struggling to save the dying buds from attack.
Oh Naïve child! How could I know these blossoms
embodied healing Gods?
If I had known that the peonies sweet nectar stem
captivated the ants who devoured
lushness without harm, in harmony of opposites—
I would have stopped grumbling.
I would have gathered pale pink and lavender bouquets,
setting vases on tables—dining and side and bedside,
sanctioning the ants to kiss the rainbow petals,
drinking from the wellspring of my origin.
I would have become a Paean
stirring together concoctions from the roots;
curing all youthful distress.
But I lived under shade trees,
in undernourished foliage removed
before next season’s roots had a chance to set.
Oh, peony!—Herb of the sun!
Why did I not flourish in your sky-eyed terrain?
How could I have not known my home’s soil
embodied such mythical magic,
holding secret incantations in teas and roots and petals:
formulas for the pain and blight all things.
I go to your garden now,
praying that it’s not too late,
desiring the language of flowers.
I run with bouquets to all pitch-black and loamy places
inside the scent of your endless lifespan
luring me in fearlessly
to your leaves, to your flower, to your seed,
to the roots of my own late blossom.

“To Bloom in Ashtabula” by Kathleen Gallagher, forthcoming in Yuyutsu Sharma’s Eternal Snow: An Anthology of Poems Originating From Yuyu’s Interactions, Readings and Workshops. Used by permission of the author.

Kathleen Gallagher has a poetry book titled I See Things Are Falling (Writing Knights Press, 2014) and a Pushcart nomination. She won two Writer’s Digest awards for nonfiction in 2007 and 2011. Her poetry is in journals such as South Coast Poetry Journal. A self-taught artist, her poem “Somewhere” placed in the 2001 National Collage Society’s show. She is a former Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts creative writing student at Kent State University. When she is not writing, she is teaching college literature or dismantling computers for art parts. She is a contributor in art shows at Studio 2091 in Cuyahoga Falls. Gallagher's webpage


Create a spine poem by stacking up books with appealing titles from your bookshelves. Arrange them, spine out, to form poems. Take a photo to preserve your literary remix. If you’d like, share your images on Twitter with the tag #readwritepoetry and #spinepoem or #spinepoetry, where you will also find examples.

[Thanks to 2014 Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry's Laura Weldon for this idea, along with six others at Poetry Writing Hacks.]
JM Romig
Thank you for the kind comments on my poem!

Its nice to see another Ashtabulian make this list. I love this poem, and it makes good 'ol 'Bula seem magical. It is, sometimes.

Poems like this give me a tinge of homesickness.

Good stuff. I'm looking forward to checking out more of your work.
4/16/2016 2:40:21 PM

Daune Calovini
Kathleen: I will look for you on twitter! It's a fun outlet. I was thinking people might be able to do fun spine poems with DVDs, but... those are on the outs, as well!! Cereal boxes?? :)
4/8/2016 7:38:15 PM

kathleen gallagher
Barbary, I remember the purple (and pink?) cotton candy. ha. Yes, I never appreciated my mother's peony bushes because we were always picking off ants. Now.....later in life...I understand.
4/5/2016 7:27:14 PM

Barbary Chaapel
I grew up in Painesville. And remember eating grape! cotton candy in Ashtabula. As it happens, your poem reverberates today...I see our peonies shot up overnight. I really like your writing style. ....Barbary
4/4/2016 6:32:20 PM

Nice poem, Steve! And thanks for the compliment on my poem, Claire. My mother grew peonies and I never really liked them, but later on I learned more about them. I try to move in and out of the allusion because not everyone appreciates mythology. Sad, huh?
4/4/2016 1:46:06 AM

steve brightman
Screams – aubade/spine poem

this side of brightness,
half asleep in frog pajamas,
even the stars look lonesome.
Small wonder,
on days like this,
the name of the world
screams from the balcony.
4/3/2016 2:14:56 PM

Claire Keyes
Fabulous poem. I love the way you move into and out of the classical allusion. I, too, grow peonies and at first was upset at those bugs that appeared. Without the blossom, no bugs. Without the bugs, no blossom?
4/3/2016 1:27:48 PM

kathleen gallagher
It is funny that you should say that about the "spine poem" idea! I am posting each poet to my Facebook wall every day and several of my friends loved the idea and posted a "spine poem" to my wall. One friend, however, sent me his Ebook list instead of real books. Ha. Anyhow, I made a spine poem yesterday! I posted it to Twitter (my first time using Twitter!). The idea appeals to me because I am a recycle artist (I make art out of recycled items such as dead computers and such). Sad to think that books are slowly becoming a relic. I hope not. Thanks for the poem recommendation, Diane! Your work is valuable and pertinent and creative in these days of less interest in the humanities.
4/3/2016 12:14:43 PM

Daune Calovini
Love the spine poem idea. So cool. What a great assignment for a teacher to give students, I thought. Then I thought, I wonder how many kids would have access to enough books to make this interesting? That made me sad. Then I pictured kids in libraries making poem stacks upon poem stacks of books on tables, and I thought of my library friends being mad at the re-shelving work but also happy that kids were touching books in a new way.
4/3/2016 10:20:45 AM

Diane Kendig
Kathleen, and THAT prompt came from one of the poets who was up the first year, Laura Weldon. Here is her poem from then, "Why the Window Washer Reads Poetry"
4/3/2016 10:03:35 AM

Kathleen Gallagher
What a fun writing prompt that followed my poem! I must try this! What an honor to be a part of this project. I hope readers enjoyed my poem and will consider writing one of their own poems! Happy Poetry Appreciation Month!!!
4/2/2016 9:40:55 AM

READ + WRITE: 30 Days of Poetry is a collaboration between Cuyahoga County Public Library and poet Diane Kendig. Our thanks go to Diane and the poets of Northeast Ohio who allowed us to share their poetry.