Digger

Reading a poem by Jean Follain this morning, I remember my dream about a garden. Or should I say the garden? Because I feel as if I have dreamt countless variations of it throughout my life. A virtually forgotten act of casual gardening months earlier has taken root, it seems: I find the fallen-down exclosure in the middle of the field and there, miraculously weed-free, the dark, loose soil is stippled with rhubarb and the pale yellow flowers of what might be salsify, the root that tastes like oysters. It all comes back to me, now. Those radish and carrot seeds I found in a bottom drawer – what happened to them, I wonder? A neglected row of broccoli has gone to blossom. Tomato and squash vines snake off into the tall grass, a tangle of exposed veins for a love child’s grotesque and amorphous body.

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Lately I feel as if I’ve been saving my best thoughts for the comment threads of other people’s blogs. Which is fine, of course, except that it doesn’t leave me much energy to write here. But then, reading itself should be an active, first-thing-in-the-morning activity; I cheat myself of considerable food for thought by using that time to do my own writing. How much more do I really have to discover about my own thoughts? After almost fourteen months of intensive blogging, I feel as if I’ve said pretty much all I have to say. But it’s like keeping a garden, isn’t it? Once you start cultivating, you can’t stop or the weeds will take over. Though perhaps that image would be more appropriate for folks who battle comment spam…

Back when I used to garden for real, I got to the point where I rarely turned the soil at all, just kept everything heavily mulched. It was a great time-saver. The only problem was, I liked to dig.

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Here’s one of my oldest poems still remaining in the “keepers” pile. It was already in existence in some form by the fall of 1983, because I remember doing a prose version of it for a Freshman English assignment. The speaker is female. I’m not sure about the geographical setting – somewhere in the Andes, I guess, judging by the emphasis on potatoes.

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PARIAH

It’s true, i was careless,
that one i was always shadowing–that
little light of mine–it gave me
the slip one night.
I’d thought i could allow myself
one unguarded dream, woke
to the baying of dogs & the beating
of a hundred pairs of wings–pigeons
with their automatic laughter.
I had to go live among the graves,
where no one looks for a wife.

It’s been months now.
Years, even. Time again
when night turns the crests
of the mountains white
like the hands of God on the horizon,
his bared knuckles.

One morning the vines lie limp & dark
six months after setting the one-eyed
lumps in the furrow. And just
now, my long-fingered rake
lifting a clump of dirt
has uncovered a miniature cry,
a voice coming out of the ground
right at my feet.
Do earthworms or beetle grubs speak?

On my knees, plucking
the stones from their beds
i’ve unearthed a half-size infant’s foot
& grasping it around the ankle with
a gentle tug, look–
i’ve rescued a tiny naked girl
the very color of clay.
She lies in the crook of my arm
& returns my gaze
like the cistern where i draw water.

I’ll take her back to my charnel house.
She will grow fat on boiled potatoes
& teach me how to interpret
this ceaseless buzzing of the dead
who are said to sleep.

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