Toxic Garden Sequence


Spoon in hand, I sat on the edge.
She couldn’t keep spicy down
since the chemo, she said,
after delaying the first round
with travel to Tasmania,
--she loved the wild
green -- but the cancer didn’t
slow. I drove her to Fairview
Hospital. The dose soaked her
body, a toxic cocktail, uprooting
her jet black hair. She bought hats,
cloches, turbans, exotic caps.
In her bedroom, brochures
from the Mexican Miracle
lay spread across the comforter.
“If this doesn’t work,
we’ll try Tijuana,” she said.
And it didn’t, but she couldn’t.
She planned to spend her last years
on beaches in Australia, but
reeled them out in a Fairview
room, no ocean in sight.

©Kate Hallett Dayton


Lily’s first husband, Hal, offered us
hashish brownies, spoke of meeting Buddha--
killied him, and smoked pot anyway.

A frustrated writer, Hal worked in transit
when we moved to fertile country. I lost
touch, birthed a girl, took up photography
and tracked wolves in my mother’s past.

Before he could publish, Hal’s hallucinations,
top secret missions to Madison,
and hospitalizations inundated them.

Numbed by Thorazine, and the prospect
of years spent in and out of hospitals, he stuffed
the car exhaust with rags, absorbed the fumes.

A neighbor, noticed the smoke billow, sprinted
to the garage window, found him slumped at the wheel,
called Lily to tell her the wolves had taken Hal.

©Kate Hallett Dayton



She always said ask for more
than you want,
even more
than you need,
as she led me deep
into mysterious waters.
At dusk the sailboat rocked
as we watched the sun slide
down open water.
After boiling lobster, the island cook
shouldered her huge black stock pot
along the worn path home.
When colors drained
from the Virgin sky,
we glanced overboard.
The water shimmered bright
green against the darkness.  


The next afternoon, opposite
Sydney’s Peace and Love
we dove off the boat
suddenly surrounded
with transparent umbrella-like
bodies, each embossed
with a white etching
of a wood poppy blossom.
Jellyfish, she said, poisonous.
We rushed the boat ladder, amazed
how last night’s pulsating emeralds
blossomed into this toxic garden.

©Kate Hallett Dayton



A friend tells me the story
of a woman dying in a Zen hospice.
The nurse could not stay at her side
long enough to help her, though
she saw her struggle to breathe.
A guide came, silently observed
the dying woman, then said,
there's a space after each breath
you can rest in. The woman searched,
found an opening.


I brought chocolate when Lily could
no longer taste, a polar bear, soft,
but too small for comfort,
and a plaid nightgown for Christmas
though she was long past caring
what she wore. The last time
I approached her bed, I could not
warm her cold hand in mine.

©Kate Hallett Dayton


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