The Importance of Calico Lima Beans

a collection of poems moving through grief

Copywrite 2015 Terri Gerrard

Remembering Jeffrey

     Jeff loved his garden. A few days before he died, together we lifted his rototiller onto a workbench so he could clean the blades and change the engine's oil. Tomatoe and pepper seedlings peeped through the soil where he had planted them in white styrofoam cups. Dried calico lima beans, saved from last year's crop lay in a dish on the kitchen counter, waiting for attention.  He was optimistic and hopeful, a gardener has to be. Some strength had returned to his body after 30 days of hospitalization.He received two additional rounds of chemotherapy, but never completed the prescribed four. Sepsis ravaged his body and he died 99 days after diagnosis.

     I had never experienced the untimely death of someone I loved. I wrote these poems in the months following his death. Because the loss of Jeff  forever changed me and grief never leaves completely, The Importance of Calico Lima Beans may never see "the end".

30 Days

30 days of newspapers tossed the corner--neglected

30 day's worth cluttering the living room floor,
gathering dust, waiting safe in plastic
bags to be unwrapped and read. They are protected.

They are in isolation.

Sitting among these 30 newspapers reminds me of
my husband's 30 days spent in a hospital room,
diagnosed with leukemia, wrapped up tight for protection and

waiting in isolation.

30 days
no fresh breeze to touch his cheek
no sun melting away the in his hands--leftovers of chemotherapy
no warmth of human skin

30 days spent bravely fighting while his essence ebbs.
30 days spent in fear, anger and confusion--another gift from chemo.
30 days spent with courage and hope.

Like the 30 swaddled newspapers, he yearns to be tossed to his porch,
unwrapped and read.

Today, 30 days, Jeff is delivered home.


Jeff and his nurse Natalia.

      Jeff was  home for a week when I receive a phone call from my friend, Carol. Her husband, Less had died unexpectedly from a heart attack. While on the phone with her, my feelings had run rampant: trying to console her and thinking of Jeff's own mortality.  Our conversation ended, both of us in tears and disbelief . I cursed God. 


A King's Last Breath


She knew something was amiss.

She felt something mysterious.

Six weeks ago, work took him

away from Texas to Florida.

Two days of worry went by,

he didn't answer her call. 

Her  King had taken his last breath

inside the cab of his chariot.


My King is in and out of check.

I plead to the gods, "No checkmate for my king.

Let him live through this disease."


The god's play their games of chess,

implementing strategies to outfox one another,

 and destroy their opponent.

Kings and Queens,

Knights, Castles and Bishops remain

at their mercy.

Simply pawns here on earth we are

bound to the God's flirtatious will.

Where on the chess board will we be placed?

Will our positions in life land in a safe haven?

Or moved in jeopardy?

Do we have any control?

With one move, one lies ill and another dies.


I pray, keep my King safe during this battle and his next.



My friend, less fortunate, and a widow explained,

"He clutched his chest with the final move.

Pain gripped his heart.

No more breaths.

The God's , with thumbs down,

pronounced, "Checkmate."


How do the Gods decide who should live, who should die?







Three Woman

In dark, bound in quiet,
bound by death,
three women mourn imminent loss.

A wife
A mother
A sister

Individual souls mingle in sorrow
as he lay motionless, except for life support giving him breathes and
a strong heart not letting go of summer dreams.
Four chambers beating for peace and comfort to visit in this mourning hour.

4:30 a.m.
His spirit left.

Stillness swallowed up the room.
A pause, a look, a knowing that he had moved on.
Three hearts left to bear their grief.
Three hearts bound
as the beating heart of a
single woman.

99 days after diagnosis Jeff died.
The terms "passed away" or "passed on" are gentler terms and for the passed two years, I've used "passed on"  when talking about him, Recently I've begun saying, "he died." I believe the shell of him died and his spirit passed on, but there remains an essence of him with me.

Black and White Bees
I cannot write.

paralyzed by grief.

No sentence.
No single line.
No paragraph.
No single rhyme.

Catatonic silence.
Only words of mourn come to mind.

Out of fear, I do not write. For
if I write what is in my head words of
grief and death would be in black and white.

My words would be real if I write them down--
put them in black and white.

I am suffocating from inaction, choking on words of unbearable loss.

I cannot escape these paragraphs held in my breath.

Until I surface, grasping for air and write,
exhaling words that spill from my mouth like a disrupted
hive of black and white bees, swarming onto paper, do the swelling stings end.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe deep
breaths and write.
I must write the words of my anguished heart,
put them down in black and white.

Where is Jeff?

Three o’clock in the morning, the lonely whistle of the train

wakes me, but it’s not doing its job of jolting me out from

under my nightmare. Yesterday, returning home from

Wyoming on a weekend trip to visit friends and

the site of Jeff’s home away from home, I’m devastated. 

He worked out of town, home on the weekends.


I searched for Jeff on the prairie near Rozet.


Where is he?


The red rock pad he constructed to secure his travel trailer,

 and protect it from rocking in the incessantly blowing Wyoming winds

sits empty, dormant. The little home, vanished. Jeffrey vanished.   

The train’s whistle is not doing its job at 6:01 this evening either as I write.

 In reality, I drove to Wyoming looking for him, not to visit with friends.

I found traces of him, but I did not find my Jeffrey.


Grief plays nasty, unforgiving tricks with your mind.

Just Jeffrey

24 years of greetings cards piled up and tucked away safe
in a dra
wer with the most recent placed on top.
Sorting through them after your death
I noticed som
ething about the way you signed them.

On the first few, you simply wrote:

Just Jeffrey grew into two words:
Love, Jeff

And then there were three:
Love ya,

Love you,

Then five words appeared:
Love you Terri Lee,

Over the years a one-word signature grew to six:
I love you Terri Lee,

What am I?



Filling out forms for my new doctor, I see:


Phone number.

Email address-check.

Marital status.

Marital status?

What am I? You left me 8 weeks ago.

You are not here.

I wear my wedding band intermingled now with yours.

You are not here. I wear your ring.

Am I married? Am I single?

No box to check: woman.

No box to check: woman who wears her wedding band.

No box to check: woman who wears her wedding band and her husband died.

I wear the ring you put on my finger 23 years ago.

But, you are not here. You were part of me.

This band, this marriage gave some definition of me.

You left. You are not here. Who am I?

I wear my wedding band.

I am left to figure this out; left alone to sort through

and a check a box that defines me.


There is no “widow” box to check.

The Importance of Calico Lima Beans

I could not save you.

Winter kissed your head in late December and
with dew on fresh lawns and flowers, an early
spring morning beckoned you to follow its soft light.

I gave the order to stop life support. Your tomato seedlings
withered and died. I could not save them either. You had
the green thumb, not me.

Late May. Your garden is still not planted. Do I dare plant seeds in the
already tilled area that requires your expertise?
Can I grow anything? I could not save you.

Despite a of confidence and anxiety over
anything alive surviving in my care, I dug holes and placed
plants from a local nursery in them.

You would save some of your grandpa's calico lima beans from each year's crop. With faith you knew you'd harvest them each fall. Do I dare have such faith that I could begin a life from seed? I could not save you.

I shoveled sloppy rows, unlike your perfectly measured ones, and poked calico lima beans into the soil. I hoped, watered and waited.

One by one, seedlings squirmed their way out of their rumpled beds, and crepted and crawled and sprawled all along the fence.
Marvelous calico lima beans.

I grew them

I Feel Him

I feel him barely beneath my skin. A coolness tingles the nape of my neck, then floats to my extremities and my back—moving between superficial fat and my protective layer.


I feel him, when alone in the living room, sitting by the east window watching the sun rise. The morning light flirting with crystals hanging from the large picture pane glass creates rainbows on the ceiling, the walls and the kitchen appliances. The week he died, at peace in this room he finally lingered with me. Odd for him to rest. This morning, one of my favorite moments of our life together as we watched the prisms cast splashes of colors throughout the room, became one of our last mornings together.


I feel him elbow me awake at 4:30 in the morning. Yep, at 4:30 am when he knows

I have much I want to accomplish. 4:30—his favorite time of day; the time he left

this earth.


I feel him when I hear a train. He would intentionally slowed down his truck, only to be stopped at the clanging crossing, enamored with the rumbles and whistles as the locomotive chugged by, wishing he could hobo hop right onto the open box car door. I suppose, “all aboard” is where I prefer to think he landed when he left in that wee morning hour. He loved trains.


I feel him in the garden. I think he played a joke on me with the enormous pumpkins that grew this year. I should call them his pumpkins, even though I planted them. He is laughing or maybe scowling over the abundance of the squirming knotted vines and hugeness of the giant orange orbs seizing space in his garden, reserved for only the planting of beans.  


I feel him when I cook, telling me to add this or that, which is his preference and not necessarily mine; usually the meal we enjoyed would turn out exquisitely delicious. One thing for sure, soup in this home will never be the same without his intervention.


I feel him when I cry and earthquakes erupt inside; he still soothes me with a slight breeze that dries my tears, kisses my cheek, and simultaneously stirs the leaves of the trees outside, causing them to wave good day to me.


I feel him saying, “I am fine. Please, don’t cry.”

And here is Fall?

Where did the blue and bright light of summer go?

Where are the warm green-grass days that flow into

evening with laughing children playing hide-n-seek

and cicada songs sending us off to sleep? I spent summer

in a vortex of unconsciousness, wearing black in the heat of day.

Black, in longs sleeves and slacks.

With the ebb of dark, light on the horizon's cusp,

I awake to browns, reds, yellows and golds drifting down,

leaves running with the wind, scurrying away from the vacuum of the street sweeper.


I should call on the street sweeper to suck up the 6 months of dust that clouds my house.

Ship of Leaves


Gales threw her about

tossed her aboard a ship of leaves

that swirled her to him

upon memories in the breeze.

Aboard crisp yellow and brown

a tiny life fragile floating down

until another gust dances her around

and lands her on

another merry-go-round.

Clouds of J


November’s been rough—maybe because it sits on the cusp of

Christmas and the holiday rush.

I saw Thanksgiving—our holiday—without you.


I drove the ‘66 to the cemetery and sat on the granite bench

that marks your final resting place. I cussed. Where are you?

I don’t understand. I begged for an answer and cried.


A breeze picked up, a coolness grabbed my attention.

I looked up at the grand old cottonwood tree, its

branches waving in the wind.


I squinted, noticing something in the sky,

three geese flying, silently flying by.   

Stunned, I observed something else—the wind pulling a

cloud into the shape of the letter J. And I saw another J and another.

You may not believe this, but fluffy white J’s filled the sky 


Jeff sent his clouds of J’s to comfort me on a gloomy day.

I must believe it.

I wish others could have seen it.

New Year’s Morning-2014

Coo, coo, coo

call doves this New Year’s morning.

Wake up and see.

It snowed over-night, dusting your world white

with promise as you sleep. The moon hovers above

last year’s tales, gathering them up for safe keeping.


Coo, coo, coo

call the doves again,

Come and see,

Stars barely bright, twinkle, “Good-morning.”

More memories wait to be written in days to come and

embracing you, are the arms of light from the rising sun.