BY PAISLEY REKDAL
I have been taught never to brag but now
I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance,
indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth: does it offend you
to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or
tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering
fingers, the neighbor with his broken
love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence awhile, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?
I can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the whiteand-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit
scratching under the barberry: is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?
It is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.
One of the neighbors dressed the Social Capital Owl in a Japanese frog mask, possibly in honor of the spring peepers going mad in our swamp. Here’s a poem by Dick Allen to celebrate.
You May Leave a Memory, Or You Can be Feted by Crows
Three years, Huang Gongwang
worked on his famous handscroll,
“Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”.
As he put successive applications of ink to paper
over the “one burst of creation,” his original design,
it is said he often sang like a tree frog
and danced on his old bare feet.
One day, he adds one hemp fiber stroke,
the next a moss dot.
What patience he had,
like a cat who comes back season after season to a mole’s tunnel.
Honors may go to others.
Riches may go to others.
Huang Gongwang has one great job to do.
And he sings like a tree frog,
and he dances on old bare feet.
I am entirely sick of winter. Therefore:
The Cuckoo Song
This is my favorite New Year’s poem, written in 1900 by Edwin Arlington Robinson. He grew up in Gardiner, Maine and the inland winters probably contributed a great deal to his outlook on life. He also wrote “Richard Cory” and “The Mill”.
Here is Eben Flood, and his party.
Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one nightOver the hill between the town belowAnd the forsaken upland hermitageThat held as much as he should ever knowOn earth again of home, paused warily.The road was his with not a native near;And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:“Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moonAgain, and we may not have many more;The bird is on the wing, the poet says,And you and I have said it here before.Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the lightThe jug that he had gone so far to fill,And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,Since you propose it, I believe I will.”Alone, as if enduring to the endA valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,He stood there in the middle of the roadLike Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.Below him, in the town among the trees,Where friends of other days had honored him,A phantom salutation of the deadRang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.Then, as a mother lays her sleeping childDown tenderly, fearing it may awake,He set the jug down slowly at his feetWith trembling care, knowing that most things break;And only when assured that on firm earthIt stood, as the uncertain lives of menAssuredly did not, he paced away,And with his hand extended paused again:“Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like thisIn a long time; and many a change has comeTo both of us, I fear, since last it wasWe had a drop together. Welcome home!”Convivially returning with himself,Again he raised the jug up to the light;And with an acquiescent quaver said:“Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.“Only a very little, Mr. Flood—For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”So, for the time, apparently it did,And Eben evidently thought so too;For soon amid the silver lonelinessOf night he lifted up his voice and sang,Secure, with only two moons listening,Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—“For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,The last word wavered; and the song being done,He raised again the jug regretfullyAnd shook his head, and was again alone.There was not much that was ahead of him,And there was nothing in the town below—Where strangers would have shut the many doorsThat many friends had opened long ago.
Sometimes our life reminds meof a forest in which there is a graceful clearingand in that opening a house,an orchard and garden,comfortable shades, and flowersred and yellow in the sun, a patternmade in the light for the light to return to.The forest is mostly dark, its waysto be made anew day after day, the darkricher than the light and more blessed,provided we stay braveenough to keep on going in.Wendall Barry
Among the Rocks
by Robert BrowningOh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,This autumn morning! How he sets his bonesTo bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feetFor the ripple to run over in its mirth;Listening the while, where on the heap of stonesThe white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.If you loved only what were worth your love,Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:Make the low nature better by your throes!Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human dream.