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Friday, December 11, 2020


by Karen Mandell

Seedlings are something else entirely.
I’ve tried them year after year, the excitement
of new growth lulling me into forgetfulness:
Most fail miserably. Then I go to the nursery
and buy their baby plants instead, planted in plastic
Cages but at least they’re sturdy, survivable.
Most have small, hopeful flowers already laughing
and practicing their dance moves in the light wind.
Bearing flowers, doesn’t that mean they’ve come of age?
I’m told to pick off the early blooms to make the plant stronger.
I can be tough but I can’t manage that.
This year is different.
Out of two packs of seeds, a dozen nasturtium and cosmos
have come up. A dozen all together. A small victory. 
I’ll wait out the nursery and nurse these seedlings
with their too thin stems, frail, spindly,
roots thin as cobweb strands unable to soak up
the water I’ve poured with too generous a hand.
This morning when I roll up the shades to let in the sun,
a mushroom stands upright it the pot, 
its thin stem strong enough to hold its gill upright.
Gray, with a perfect helmet head, erect posture, a soldier
Standing his ground. I can’t allow it. It speaks of decay,
ruin, dank. The seedlings are impervious and lean into the sun.
I should be like them, happy with their square inch,
no begrudging or fear of encroachment. Instead,
I look for a plastic spoon to dig out, to disembody.
But I don’t go through with it. It’s not me to determine
Who will live and who will die. 

Karen Mandell’s short story “Goddess of Mercy” is forthcoming from Notre Dame Review. She has written Clicking, interconnected short stories, and Rose Has a New Walker, a book of poetry. She has taught writing at the high school and college levels and literature at community senior centers.