My mother always cut the gladiola stems too short
whenever my dad brought them home. Cradling
the long stems in the crook of his arm, coral or
magenta tissue thin flowers laying complacently
exposed in crinkly florist wrapping paper, he’d
hold out the gladiolas to her to arrange in a vase,
then she’d grab them away from him with her jerky
movements and slice off half their majesty. Actually,
they were his favorite flowers, not hers. Hers were
cinnamon carnations. But maybe she had some
compulsion to trim things down to size in general.
When Kodak still developed photos with a white
frame around the outside, she would cut that off
without a ruler so all the photos from our youth
are small and have crooked edges except that
photograph of my twin sister and me sitting on bikes
in sun suits in the backyard. That one, at least,
survived the scissors. Just yesterday she told me
that she still cuts cantaloupe in chunks then stores
the pieces in a glass jar in the fridge, never to ripen
naturally in gentle air.


Jan Ball teaches ESL at DePaul University of Chicago. She has published poetry in many journals including Atlanta Review, Connecticut Review, Gargoyle, Iodine Review and Nimrod. When not teaching, traveling or writing, Jan and her husband like to cook for their friends.

About the genesis of “Stems”: The poem vents some of my frustration with what I perceive as my mother’s obsessive and negative behavior. I regret that, at 97, she is no longer able to defend herself. Until her early nineties, however, my mother was able to recite long poems so I probably got my love of poetry from her.