Miss Eula’s Garden is a special poem to me, because I love Miss Eula with a blazing passion. The woman, the vernacular, the landscape, and a bit of gothic at the end also earned me a genuine, laminated Southern writer’s license.
This poem was published in the “rural life” edition of Grain Magazine, a beautiful journal produced by the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. This edition (from the 90’s) was full of amazing poets and writers, including my dear friend, Art Coelho, a poet and artist I idolize. The cover art of this issue was also fantastic. I was thrilled to even be included next to the likes of these great talents.
As a funny aside, I was too stupid to know that Grain paid anything for poetry. I found out when the check…I mean cheque…came in the mail. Yay, Canada! I can’t remember the exact amount. I think it was around a hundred bucks. But it felt like a million, because it paid the electric bill. So, thanks to the good folks at Grain, I didn’t have to write by candlelight, which really sucks.
In all seriousness, I’d still like Grain, even if they had told me to get lost. They’ve been around for a long time, and they’re still going strong with beautiful journals and excellent work. I will link them up, so you can check them out, too.
And please do come in and give Miss Eula some sugar.
Miss Eula’s Garden
by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder
Eula Jessamine Williams
1894 – 1980
Miss Eula planted afterbirth in her garden.
She had thirteen children and the sweetest greens
downwind of the Great Dismal Swamp.
She had a garden so big
it made big look small.
She had skin as loving tough
as sugar melon leaves.
Our Mamas and Daddies said
when evil came a knocking,
Miss Eula ordered extra
for next season,
and if we so much as tasted
her blood black garden
with the tips of our toes,
they’d knock our jaws so hard,
we’d taste sideways for a year.
But we were children, not knowing much.
We said Miss Eula was a nice old woman
with crook red arms,
a hot house in her living room
full of ninety-five
February green degrees,
cracked clay pots and dirt,
and a jar of sweaty hard candy
that came out in one thick,
tongue licked lump.
And we were children who knew
we had to sneak an extra mile
through the moss tangled toenails
of the old dark swamp
to help Miss Eula sanctify her seeds.
The Old Folks said
when crazy came a knocking,
Miss Eula ordered three bushels
and a peck.
They said they knew the days
Miss Eula could smell blood
from three counties away.
When some young girl
got to hollering labor,
there Miss Eula would come
with her big silver bucket
clinking and clanking
up the cypress rooted road
to give congratulations
and take the good parts home.
But we were children who knew
when shooed from the stern
straight back rows
of Mama clean gardens,
we could go help Miss Eula plant
pus, skulls, egg shells, mice,
rotten peelings, crab claws, snakes,
and fallen baby birds.
And we knew she wouldn’t yell
when we climbed atop her barn
or ate her pecans til our insides grew
sweet, heavy shells.
But more than anything we knew
Miss Eula’s seeds were far from evil.
Miss Eula planted miscarriages in her garden.
She had five of those and silver corn so sweet
Jesus Himself would lay down and melt on the cob.
She had a house so growing old
it made old look young
and creeping vines which crissed and crossed
and covered the house outside.
Miss Eula never fixed the cracks
so the vines could work
their green and welcome way inside.
The Sunday School teachers said
Miss Eula had long fingered devil babies
growing under that swamp bubbled ground
just waiting to grab the Hell bound feet
of foolish, smart mouth children.
The Deacons said to bite the corn of Miss Eula
was to eat your own sorry little soul
bit by bit.
But we knew the harvest would be good
when Miss Eula cut her hair, the dead skin on her feet,
twenty three bristles from a wild boar’s back,
two nuts stolen from an albino squirrel,
set it all ablaze, scattered ashes on the rows,
prayed and spit on every seed.
Miss Eula planted fever in her garden.
Three old mules and a cross eyed pig
and the biggest tomatoes that ever
wind reddened on the plant.
She had a garden so full
it made alive look dead
and eyes as pecan sweet and brown
as summer puddled skies.
The Ladies’ Auxiliary said
she might even be growing illegals
in that sin soaked soil.
Miss Eula said no plant is illegal
in the Kingdom of God.
We buried Miss Eula
the same day we found her,
curled up and brown in her garden.
And to this day she’s still there,
molding the worm loved mud
with her hands, blooming each June,
becoming seed in the fall.
And year after bigger year
turning fevered afterbirth
into sugar melon hearts.