2016: D.A. Powell, “In Search of New Gardens”

When the freeway came down a light
returned to patches of this city
that had been long-shadowed in concrete,
bursts of fennel fields, nasturtiums
flecking up the walls and pretty soon
where volunteer vetch began
the volunteer hand aerated and
planted, brought hives, staked
poles for beans, built boxes for tomatoes.
It was gratifying to see things flourishing
after that quake had obliged us to
rearrange our quarters. Public
greens sprouted everywhere.

Jackhammers and backhoes rattle me
this morning they are remaking street
corners and replanting the tree beds.
The goal of all this noise is partially
accessibility, partially beautification.
Yarrow and thrift, the fortnight lily who
diffracts her six-petaled luminance long
into evening. White and violet lingering
in the dusk. The sidewalks new-laid
and smooth like the shell of a hen’s egg.
Every birth is an ugly event, in
its way; an emergence from nothing,
head first toward nothing, it must
all seem so futile to create a life if we
think of life simply as impermanence.
A lack of stability, a jolt to the senses
delivered as we arrive, a reminder that
none of this matter matters over time.

But this is the failing of the human mind,
its anticipation of a final erasure.
To jump too far ahead is to have missed
the point of living. “I dwell in possibility,”
a better poet once wrote. She took her
secrets to the fringed gentian and scalloped
geraniums that illuminated her walkway
even after Venus became visible in the west;
she knelt into bulbs of unborn azure tulips.
They called her Emily, which may mean
industry, or to emulate, to rival or to excel.

Hope succeeds in a world of doubt.
How else account for the kind of person
who expects no visitor but puts out anyway
an embroidered cloth on the cardtable.
We should be dissatisfied enough
with ugliness to drape something over it.
Even better to create a common area
that didn’t exist before, to transfuse
a corner where loveliness had been
pissed away, weedy clump of ordinary
crabgrass and buried butts, crinkled
in the dirt like a wise man’s dollar.

Money, you see, only merits attention
if, like a parable’s golden seed grain,
it falls into the ground and dies somehow.
If you have saved too much it rots on you.
Don’t listen to people who have amassed
great wealth. Maybe listen to the woman
planting silver-tipped starts of thyme
around the vital trunk of the lemon tree.
No one will give it to you as straight
as the person who works with a shovel.

J.B. Woodward opened his lavish garden to public
entry just after the war had ended. Tall pink birds
would wander there; orchestras would perform.
A monkey man went round with his monkey,
they took tips and played and danced a hornpipe.
Shaved ice ran out in summer. Acrobats tumbled.
Seals. The place was alive while J.B. Woodward
was alive. Eventually the garden shuttered up.
Cottony seeds were carried on the breeze.

It isn’t only wind and happy accident, each
new flowering. We are all involved
in what roots and grows in common spaces.
“I will plant my hands in the garden plot” a poet
wrote in Tehran, and she went quickly off
of her journey one night in an auto, gone.
But her poems stayed in this world, petals
repeating radiantly across the open fields.
Forough is this poet’s name, meaning brightness.