Summer Squash

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Summer Squash

Near the end, when my mother
was mostly cotton pajamas
and bones, we could see the tumor
rise out of her belly, as big and round
as a prize-winning tomato.

With every heartbeat, the thing
pulsed its own defiant life,
pushed its roots deeper
into a pancreas and liver no longer
rich enough to be good soil.

My brother, the pharmacist, found
it first while turning mom,
put his hand on the swollen fruit
like he might have felt
for his children, kicking with life,

safe in their first dark and fluid
place. He urged me to reach out
and touch, but—watching his hand
rise and fall—I could not bear
such labor, so clinical, so intimate

like sex. When all was said
and done, I drove home three states
away, to the summer garden I stuck
hurriedly in the ground—eggplants, okra,
tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

Previous years, the squash vines
spread green through their end
of the bed, bloomed yellow flowers
as bright as the morning sun, sprouted
a squash or two, then suddenly

wilted and died. Extension Service
Publication Insect Pests of the Home
Vegetable Garden
says I have
squash vine borers, clearwing moths
whose larvae chew through

stems of otherwise healthy plants.
Remedies include “chemical prevention
of egg deposit” and “manual removal
of larval young.” Bore holes tell me
I’m too late for prevention,

so I carry a penknife to the garden,
search plants for protruding frass
and a bulge, cut gently like a lover
along the stem axis until I see the palled

living worm, gut the fat white thing,
and—with the blade—scrape
the bastard out.

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