Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Garden Poem to Share

In honor of Poetry month and the coming of spring, our Secret Gardens chairperson offers the following:

"I may not know much about poetry, but I know when something moves me. I read this poem for the first time when it appeared in The New Yorker in May of 1987, and reading it every spring since still gives me a chill. If you're a gardener, you'll know what I mean. And even if you're not--my God, how can the last line not give you goosebumps?"
 - Bruce

An American Naturalist Writes to a Londoner, 1758
Brendan Galvin

Now I will tell you my manner
of gardening here, which progresses
not by calendar but by natural signals.
On a clear March night, I sight down
the Dipper’s bowl, for a backward
question mark—tail of the rising Lion—
and then may be found slapping mud
from the plot into balls, squeezing
to test for water content, this before
even a single mallard clack from
the creek, and pumpkins seem the wreckage
of last year’s quarter-moons.
Then the whole plot is already staked
in my head, minus slugs, borers,
hornworms, loopers, beetles, and all
that plague I forget each year
until they descend like a host of
savages to be bought off
only by a feast of this or that leaf,
and dug out of vines and stems
where they poke without welcome.
Asparagus I intercrop with parsley,
since I have discovered they agree
with one another. The latter
is said to go to the Devil and back
nine times ere it breaks the soil,
but I have found it mild
and without evil influence. Beans
I keep far from onions they can’t
abide, and basil, which breeds
a merry heart, I grow along borders
with umbelliferous dill, whose leaves
are agreeable with fish, though of
a strength not to everyone’s taste.
These strong-scented herbs, with chives
and mint, may keep a barrier against
insects, though my studies here
need more attention. Native squashes
and gourds are set when the dogwood
flowers, and tomatoes during
the mayfly hatch. This conveys somewhat
my manner of gardening. I would
continue but that in the mere telling
I grow fatigued, and must ask myself why,
yearly, I engage in it with such ardor,
since I am without family. For the surety
of plenty? Or the images such growth
alone provides? Or because I do better
with vegetable kind than human
(no easy admission), and have come to
myself more than once knocking upon
and addressing a blue squash
of five-stone weight and pebbled like
the back of an alligator? By the time
of the Perseids, when my turnips go in
for autumn, I am as weary as some
old king fighting his battle with the sea,
down on hands and knees in that
riptide of beans and cabbage splashes,
a spume of chickweed flying over
my shoulders, wishing I had never listened
for spring peepers chiming their long,
ghostly sleigh rides through the dark.

- Poem included with the author's permission.

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