He hadn't asked for orchids

On the table in the home they have shared
for more years than I am old,
he serves pancakes, his specialty,
golden and certain and round.

She is with us, surely, we know it and we don't.
This home is her domain and the grandfather clock
will hear no other opinions on the matter.
She is somewhere nearby, in another room,
tending to what needs tending,
smoothing a bedspread with practiced hand,
penning a thoughtful note,
blotting her lipstick as a lady should.

On this table of pancakes and bacon
(and love that cannot find its coat and hat)
an extraordinary bloom reaches into the air:
an orchid traced with lemon and violet.

He's dismayed by its presence.
Just look at it, who would ask for this?
This orchid says too much without saying
anything at all. There it is,
stealing focus from his pancakes,
towering over the jugs of syrup,
insistent in its message.

He hadn't asked for orchids.
More importantly to him,
neither had she.

This, you see, is grief.

When it arrives, the unwelcome guest, we
can only remember all that we did not want,
all that we never asked for.

Later in the hall their son plays host
as we study the old photographs
I have loved since I was a child.
My cousin touches one grown man's finger
to his parents' wedding picture, but
all I can see beside me is the boy
in the Davy Crockett hat, sitting on the floor
with the freckled cowgirl, his ever-sister.

I must remember to listen.

Here, says my cousin.
Look at my father's hand around her waist,
look at my mother's hand on his shoulder.

This, you see, is marriage.

Two people promising to go forth,
into the light or the dark,
without the benefit of sight.

Whatever comes will come.
Who can say what will be?

We--my cousins, my daughter and I--
search the photographs for the answers
we refuse to admit we are seeking.

Meanwhile, the always-groom stays
in the dining room with his thoughts,
his pancakes, and that blasted orchid.
He cannot deny its beauty, but his heart
has no place today for any beauty but hers.

In almost all of the photos, his gaze is fixed
on her, his beloved bride, woman of class and
wit and good breeding.

Nobility does in fact oblige, as it turns out.

His favorite pastime was never golf or painting--
but rather choosing her again and again,
wherever they went, wherever they were. 

His greatest pleasure in this life has always been
studying the landscape and finding her there:
his fine-boned bookworm beauty with the pert nose,
great gams, and spark-blue eyes that missed nothing.

Together they had a knack for making the best
of the cruelest kind of worst. 

These last two weeks she'd been full of gratitude,
he said, thanking him for every last thing,
putting her hand to his cheek.

This, you see, is grace.

When the orchid is long gone, this is what will remain:
his beloved's hand on his cheek,
the smile meant only for him,
the beauty never gone, just gone on ahead,
lighting the way for him as sure as the sun
shining on their morning paper.

--for Margaret "Peggy" Ward Fredericksen, who will be dearly missed