bittersweet: n. 1. a woody vine bearing small orange fruits which open to expose bright red seeds....
(from Webster's New World Dictionary)

bittersweet: adj. 2. producing or experiencing a mixture of pain and pleasure (after [the plant's] roots, which are said to taste bitter, then sweet when chewed)
(from The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Ed.)

Bittersweet

   
      
I have kept it faith
fully in this mason
jar from my mother,
bittersweet from my father
from an autumn 
journey which lead us
    
back to the love of bittersweet
roots from my mother;
we walked
our golden retriever on the train
tracks behind our small well
seasoned house.
"I am going to look for bittersweet."
    
Was my mother
always so beautiful?
    
Bittersweet took the place of bouquets
in our autumn cottage
with brown eyed susans
from the prairie garden behind the small brown house
to keep company the bittersweet.
    
We hunted for perfection
in the pumpkin fields, my mother 
and I, ate cheese curds
in September
in the bustling
farmer's market.  My sister
and I counted dogs, and my mother
bought bittersweet.
    
This bittersweet comes from my father
who gave me football games
and tailgating in autumn.
Day games at the giant university 
stadium; night games at the tiny
high school which I wore
as a hand-me-down years later
until it no longer fit.
    
Driving with me 
to my new home, college,
it was my father who insisted
we stop at a farmer's market
on the side of an Iowa road.
Pulled me out of the van into
my mother's memory
and bought me bittersweet.
    
Some we took to my cousin
dying in Iowa City.
I handed him
the bittersweet I had
been clutching for miles.
    
Three weeks later as I studied for finals
he died.  Shadows reached through
the arms of the parched stalks,
dying golden in the fields,
as my mother and I drove
across years, dreams, 
miles of dusky sunsets, back
to an earlier life, 
to say goodbye.
    
My father's family at the funeral 
to my surprise and bittersweet
joy remembered my mother.
My family shed the 
summer together.
    
My sister's hair in the dying
sunlight was dyed red
and we didn't look alike.

Autumn again, roses, fire.
I keep my bittersweet
in my mother's mason jar
on my windowsill.

21 September 1999

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