The Marjorie E. Peale Prize
Debra A. Daniel
My Grandmother Steals Oleanders at Windy Hill Beach
She couldn’t abide the August scorch, grit of sand,
wouldn’t even snooze under the umbrella.
Instead, strident among dozens of flower-filled jars
lining the floor of the screened porch, she scowled,
worry-watching us children rafting playful waves
and scoffing at her folly. She stood wringing her hands,
over riptides, jellyfish, sunstroke, stomach cramps.
lightning strikes, shark-devourings. She paced, hollered,
voice swallowed by a breeze naughty enough to billow
her warnings far across the sea.
When ocean time ended, she sandaled our feet,
armed herself with scissors, sunhat, damp paper towels,
and wandered us children out to steal the oleanders.
We meandered our way into neighborhoods
secluded from week-ers the likes of us.
‘Look like you belong,’ she said, so we whistled,
strolled nonchalant as sand until she spied,
on private property, the unsuspecting blooms she coveted.
Off she sent us, side-scuttling like clever crabs,
to filch a clipping, admonishing, ‘Mind you don't put them
in your mouth. They're poisonous.’
Like pirates we captured the booty while she kept lookout,
and in those wet towels she'd brought along, she swaddled
them tender, cooing as if they were kidnapped babies.
Next morning, before she mama-ed us to death
with her worryings, we freshened the water in her rooting jars,
anticipating the whisker sprouts we knew she'd green-thumb
into growing in our backyard back home, red-festooned
with lovely gains, ill-gotten. Then she’d pinch a blossom,
sin-scarlet, flutter soft—to tuck behind my ear,
and send me forth to dive into an ocean
she knew held certain danger.