The Bell Jar is filled with flowers now –

                            yellow zinnias, purple pansies, pink
                            vincas pressed smooth between worn

pages. Some leaves too, a red

                            maple, a pin oak already browning
                            at the edges. My daughter brings

another fistful to the shadowy

                            kitchen where I mix batter for her
                            zucchini muffins. Press these

in the book, Mama. She leads

                            me to the bookcase and points,
                            folds her hands in her lap,

watches me flip the pages

                            underlined in blue ink and dotted
                            with notes from a long-ago girl.

What’s this book about? she always asks,

                            and I read her my favorite part
                            with the fig tree, the fruit

falling to the ground, withering,

                            disappearing as Esther contemplates
                            one dream or another, one

perfectly good life for an appealing

                            alternate. My daughter
                            leaves me alone with my book, off

to find more flowers to save. I watch

                            her through the window, squatting
                            in the garden, and I want to tell

her why choosing is so hard, how we

                            spend our lives fading in and out,
                            how we feel happy and unhappy,

satisfied and unsatisfied, full and empty,

                            how faith gets some people through
                            but how it complicates things.

It’s the knowing and the not knowing

                            that keeps some of us awake—not
                            that we’ve made a wrong choice

but that we had to choose. Alone, I put the book

                            back on the shelf and return to the
                            kitchen, slide the bread into the oven.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Joanna Grisham

Joanna Grisham (most people call her Joey) grew up in Tennessee, where she spent a lot of time playing with imaginary friends. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College. She was named a finalist for the 2021-2022 Very Short Fiction Contest at the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival and a finalist for the 2021 Ember Chasm Review Flash Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in or will soon appear in Gleam, The Emerson Review, The Write Launch, On the Run, Still: The Journal, and other places. Her first chapbook of poems, Phantoms, is forthcoming in 2023 from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Tennessee with her wife and daughter and still spends a lot of time playing make-believe.