Two Poems

Pentecost, 2020 and Inheritance: Day Lilies
Two poems by Raylene Penner

Pentecost, 2020

My father, dead now forty years, comes to me
in my husband’s dreams. Last night, the eve
of Pentecost, our family was gathered in the dream,
but my father did not return, out in the dark of night
until 2 a.m. It must have been important work,
I think. Only a weighty school board meeting
could have kept him that late. In the partial
knowledge that is dream state or a message
from another world—as my husband recounts
the dream—we knew only that he had been out
testifying. But my father does not testify.
Even in the now of the dream, hunger is real,
lunch time of a new day, my father still sleeping.
Shouldn’t someone get him for lunch? Of course.
Go and rouse him. Daddy comes from his bedroom
surprised at the time he has lost: Aren’t we going
to use the coupons for the Mexican restaurant?
he asks—my father, who never ate at a Mexican
restaurant. Never used coupons. We have cooked,
my husband tells him. Come and eat. He comes
then, followed by a troop of hungry men, like
he used to lead into our kitchen from the harvest
field, our neighbors and friends, fellow harvesters
he was proud to bring to our table. These men
are mostly black and brown, men come home
with my white German Mennonite father,
a noncombatant in the U.S. Army, WWII, who
knew the language of the Motherland well enough
to translate for officers trying to ferret out the SS
among those they had taken prisoner. The black
and brown men have come into this dream from
the riotous streets of Minneapolis. Come out of
the fires on the eve of Pentecost, from Minneapolis
burning. My father has been in the night streets
to hear their testifying, has brought them home
to us the gathered, the shaken, in our room
on Pentecost. To give us courage, to tell us
of the purifying fires. Tongues of flame. That
we should recognize the voices rising in the street
like a fierce wind. Recognize as Phoenix rising
from the ashes of Pentecost the mysterious
cosmic dance that we, the bewildered, must claim.

—Raylene Hinz-Penner, May 31, 2020


for Don Franz

We aren’t growers of such flowers—so we barely noticed
them when we looked to buy the place in early spring.
By July when we arrived, their graceful, even elegant beauty
rising from the beds on the north and west sides of the house
was shocking: long slender pointed leaves waving above
mounded, overgrown clumps of bulbous, untended growth
showering sumptuous blooms. I thought of the bright orange
tiger lily patches ubiquitous to countryside ditches beside
long abandoned farmsteads. No house, garden, barn or chicken
coop left on the land now converted to corporate use, only
the native-to-the-western-states thriving tiger lilies outlasting
the old European immigrants moved to town now—the flowers
marking, for certain aged Sunday afternoon drivers creeping
by in their Oldsmobiles, the enduring place of someone’s life.

Day lily—flowering plant in the genus Hemerocallis, member
of the family Asphodelaceae, subfamily Hemerocallidoideae
is not in fact a lily. Brought to the U.S.by European immigrants,
it is native to Asia. Since the 1930’s hybridizers in the U.S.
have bred daylily species, enlarging their original palette
of yellow, orange and fulrous red to all colors except white
and blue. Ephemeral, the bloom of a day lily lasts only a day.

Our day lily plants took turns all summer sending forth
gargantuan blooms in yellows, faint orange, pink outlined
purple, exotic ruffled edges. Each day I searched out a lily
in honor of the woman who had died so recently in a frightful
nighttime car accident in Wichita on her way home to the house
we now occupy, newly floored, painted, counter-topped
erasing her tenure. I placed the cut lily atop my new Carrera
marble-look quartz counter and watched tiny air bubbles
emerge from the just-cut stem at the base of the clear glass vase.
Each lily I cut kept the day until I had darkened the house
for night and gone to bed. Sometime before morning’s light
while I lay open-eyed to survey the shadows, listening for
the whispers of my new surroundings, it withered, shriveled,
bent low, sending me again into the sun for another day lily.
This morning ritual kept me getting up that first fretful
month, uncertain where I was, who I was, discombobulated,
discouraged, as I sliced open with my thin silver knife blade
the taped edges of boxes piled high in every room and filled
with the mundane unrecognizeables of my life. Was this
quotidian materiale—were these dust-ridden, haphazard piles
of bubble wrap and plastic the measures of my life? In what
kind of existence would I ever wish to find such things again?

My neighbor came to talk as I cut a fresh lily. You know
he was a hybridizer of these lilies, grew them for show?
At the end he came in his wheelchair over the soft earth to see
his lilies.
By now I had begun to find the gray name tags--
like military dog tags fixed on wire to large gray graveyard
ground staples. Memorials, fallen by now, half-buried
at the base of the plant, toppled by wind and weather
and neglect. I hungrily read their names—The Whole World
and Lies and Lipstick. Princely Promise by Carpenter 07
and SPC Sea Shells. Through the Looking Glass. Some were
unmarked. Some named for someone: Bethany Deann
(Apsher 2006)
. Our grower has been gone for years. He had
barely enjoyed the lilies he had planted before he began
his descent into this system’s downward spiral: independence
to assisted living to nursing care to death. The people of this
village know they are all on that journey, assume a certain
transcience as they softly speak from the sides of their mouths:
We don’t know how much longer we will be able to stay here.
(None of us does, I think, but do not say it out loud).

I looked up his obituary: the grower of day lilies died
in 2012 at the age of 80. His house, her house, our house
was barely built. Meanwhile, the memorial service for his
widow, a musician and a teacher, has now been postponed
by the pandemic and the strong wishes of her children
that they wait until her Canadian family is allowed to cross
the border to come. I think of her gifts to me as I run my
hands over the wide wooden blinds on the many sunlit
windows, as I pull out the drawers in her well-built cabinets—
drawers that spare me the effort of getting down on my knees
to peer into the dark low recesses for the large soup pot; five
ceiling fans—especially the one we sleep under in our bedroom,
listening to the soft whoosh and hum of its summer night music.

Today, surely the last November day that will hit 70 degrees—
and before tomorrow’s promised rain, we finally transplant
the last of the day lilies from the north end where we intend
to enlarge the patio with pavers next spring. My husband
and I work together, gingerly spading a sharp-cut circle round
each plant, holding lovingly the unearthed, rooted mound
to trim away its long-neglected, miscreant growth before
we carry it to its new bed for spring. We separate massive,
clay-hardened clumps, keeping their buried names intact
and delight in our new discoveries, calling them out loudly
to each other on this warm, early winter day that feels like
a gift: Bold Red Eyes by Carpenter. Hey, how about Kevin
Walker by Stamille?
Here’s Julie Newman by Morss. If they
make the cold winter, we vow that next summer we will learn
each of their names, know them by color and edging and size.

The Wichita Day Lily Club where he was surely a member
began in 1970 according to the website. His name is
nowhere to be found there. Hybridizers are modest, perhaps.
The list of ten things to be learned from growing day lilies
proves mostly nondescript, completely forgettable. But I can’t
let go of the last two haunting lessons: 1. Happiness is in
clumps. . . . 2. Give it all you’ve got, then rest.

A Coda.
Early October, long after the day lilies had finished their
blooming, there appeared in a prominent place beside my
patio chair, as if begging for attention, an extraordinarily
strong, fibrous, and tough day lily stem sporting an emerging
bud—entirely out of season. Why now, so late, we asked?
Could it possibly bloom again before the frost? Or had it
somehow waited? We watched it tenderly with patient care,
though it seemed to require nothing of us. We came to see
this emerging flower as some demanding presence, an angel
lily whose summer work was not yet done. All alone among
the dying leaves and scapes, it finally burst one day into
stunning, magnificent, yellow-ruffled beauty—like none
we had seen all summer—bigger, showier, richer in color,
as if it had been all this while summoning inordinate strength.
I spent that morning on my knees on the ground, determined
to get the right light and angle, to capture in a perfect photo
this anomalous lemon-yellow voluptuous bloom to send
to his daughter, remembering—or so I thought I had read—
the day lily as a symbol of filial devotion. I would learn
later that my studied digital photo of the incomparable
bloom arrived in good time for her mother’s long-delayed
service with my text: Look at this gift we found today
—bequeathed by your father. If the tag below it belongs
to this beauty, it is
Wonder Workers by Carpenter. Indeed!—
arisen from the warm October earth on sturdy stem in all
its glory, of its own accord—out of all season and time.

About the Author

Raylene Hinz-Penner

After retiring from a career of teaching Contemporary American Literature and Creative Writing at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas and Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, Hinz-Penner has been writing about place--the land and its peoples, its history and geography. Her first book, Searching for Sacred Ground: The Journey of Chief Lawrence Hart, Mennonite was published in 2007. East of Liberal: Notes on the Land, a “land acknowledgement” about the southwest Kansas Dust Bowl land where she grew up, was published in December 2022. Field Notes on the Levee, a manuscript of poems and field sketches about the Topeka site where she lived for 20 years includes the forced Potawatomi march to Kansas and their early life on the land where Hinz-Penner lived in southwest Topeka. Now living in North Newton, she is an active member of Bethel College Mennonite Church, maintaining wider fellowship status with Southern Hills Mennonite in Topeka.