Ground cherries are growing on the hell-strip
between the sidewalk and the street
in the scrubby patch where weeds grow wild, fertilized
by passing dogs and fed with tattered plastic wrappers,
peppered with asphalt-sand and broken glass and bottle caps,
seasoned with winter salt, savorless,
all tossed out and left-over and trampled underfoot.
Vines are splayed like a toddler’s legs who
crawled from under her distracted Mother’s gaze and
wandered to this place, precarious and low, and
fell backward onto herself and then sat herself up
alert, suddenly aware that she is unattended.
Early she begins to freckle in the sun, flecked
with glints of yellow and violet. Life and possibility, these,
shining forth from her bare knees, irregular and bright.
A kernel forms in the midst of petals; a baby tooth, a ball-bearing,
and nightshade sparks lengthen into tongues of purple flame.
They reach, grasping; they clasp as fingers,
a fist, clenching in their inner palm a pale-green pearl.
What was brighter and more beautiful, light and motion,
a flurry of sparks that rose up without warning from the earth,
has become by all of this clutching so heavy, dense, and dull;
a firm, fibrous pod whose grip designs to deny the precious bead
due water, wind, and light.
In the fullness of time, the hull
though once so thick and sturdy, becomes
a brittle latticework. It is a stained-glass window in a
long-abandoned church; glass all broken out, patched
for now with scavenged brown cardboard and grey duct tape.
A draft is whistling through the gaps. No image or order is
discernible in the bramble of intersecting lines.
These clinging cobwebs no longer can conceal the
life that has endured so patiently, welling up beneath.
Stretched to the utmost, the veil tears from the bottom up,
revealing a sliver of smoothness, roundness and regularity.
Soon, the Lord who sends the rain
to fall upon the just and the unjust both; who
makes His sun to rise on both the evil and the good
—the Lord Himself will come walking down the sidewalk.
He will find the ground cherries where
He planted them. He will stoop down and
pluck a cherry, pod and all.
The Lord will peel away the papery rind
which had striven to starve the fruit of sunlight, rain, and air;
a glove without a hand, empty, whose clasped fingers
could not choke the germ before its maturation.
When the glove falls empty to the hell-strip,
it falls having despite itself shielded the fruit
from salt, and sand, and smog,
from broken glass, and the haggard scraps of wrappers
run down and scattered by lawnmowers;
from the indignity of passing dogs
and from the insects which had come to devour and destroy
— all this, as the Lord had wisely ordained.
Grass withers and the flowers fade, and the Lord
rolls back the rotting hull like a scroll.
He casts it off as a worn-out garment, chaff
winnowed between His forefinger and His thumb.
He holds His long-awaited treasure up to His face:
it is a glowing coal, a jewel,
wet with life, running red and gold.
It was nourished in secret by the suck of roots
which the Lord Himself had buried.
It yields a subtlety of flavor
that no untroubled produce bears,
to be consumed with joy in season.
Matthew Cordella-Bontrager is a member of Yellow Creek Mennonite Church and lives to the west of Goshen in Elkhart County, IN.