Marigold, chrysanthemum sprawl
across the garden rows, tough, smelling
like some acrid medicine when you tear
the stems, but the stink of ivy’s worse,
like air that’s been waiting inside rotting
wood. A plant so tough should cure the worst
disease – an elixir, say, for migraine
or the pains of exile from some sweeter
city. Or maybe the leaves as poultice,
tied to burned flesh with the stringy roots,
keeping the fresh wound covered until,
in despair, it agrees to heal.

Years ago, two kids with spray paint spread
their names around West Philly – CORNBREAD
and EARL on empty buildings, fences
and abandoned cars. Those names are peeling
under thick swathes of ivy, the best graffiti
artist, scribbling its thin green name across
the corrugated steel, the raddled stucco
writing it again, larger, dark to lime-green
at the growing end, practicing, making it
big and evergreen and tough.

Deborah Burnham