Poets love gardens. Inside the wider tradition of nature poems, garden poems record intimate and domestic encounters with plants, soil, insects and animals. Gardens, like poems, are human attempts to give shape to our experience of the world.
Various landscapes make their way into my poems. Growing up I spent much of the year on a ranch in southern Alberta and its geography remains vivid for me. Often after a visit to my parents, the pastures, river and outbuildings of the ranch suffuse my poems for a while--not usually as they are today, but as I remember them.
A year ago my partner Madge and I bought a house with Madge's mother in a new neighborhood in Austin called Mueller. Now we're a two-dyke, two-boy, one-Nana, one-dog, two-cat household. Mueller is built on the site of Austin's old airport and provided city planners with the rare opportunity to build a new neighborhood from scratch in the central city. It's a New Urbanist Disneyland, dense and green. The homes either have no yard (the row houses), a shared common area (the garden homes) or, like ours, a small yard about 17 by 7 feet in the front and 16 by 20 feet in the back. Smaller than the yard behind a Brooklyn brownstone, people. In upcoming posts I'll be describing the process we're just beginning of landscaping our tiny plot of earth.
What makes up for the minimal private yard, though, is the beautifully-designed common green space. Across the street from our house is a park with an open grassy area, playscape, pool and basketball court. And two blocks away is a greenbelt where I walk our dog Blue every day.
I love how well-designed it is. The circuit path around it takes Blue and I about 20 minutes to walk. (Well, I walk. If no one's around and I can let him off the leash for a while, Blue prefers to tear around at top speed or prance like a white-tailed deer.) It leads us around a pond that filters the neighborhood's wastewater and is also home to coots, fish, and frogs. When you follow the path down to one of the small waterfalls, you are out of sight and hearing of city traffic for a blessed few minutes. And the trail is littered with witty "keep-Austin-weird" sculpture depicting the insect and plant life of the blackland prairie landscape, including the notorious pollen spores that cause Austin's allergy pandemic.
(sculpture by Chris Levack)
(sculpture by Dixie Gay Friend)
This landscape is starting to displace the ranch in my poems. Here's one I wrote for Hoa Nguyen's magical workshop.
THE BOOK OF THE GARDEN
“If you have not received the oral transmissions, you must not make gardens.”
-Japanese garden master Zoen
The garden exists in two places, inside
and outside. In a drawer, the secret
teachings of the landscape designer lie
teaching secrets to termites and a flea, great
with child. In the yard, a ball-shaped hole
dug by the dog, filled by the rain, marks
the place I tried to bury compost, smirks
from nieghbor next door as the dog bold-
ly digs it back up. Upstairs, the gift lies
buried like compost waiting to be dug
up and placed in a rain-filled hole, a shrub’s
roots cradled, beauty-berries lifting high.
From the teak seat, you see carp in the water
sunset’s purple, pink and orange ribbons
streaming across their waste-fed, luscious fodder.
Water falls in steps, steps fall away like hip-bones
from the root of the spine. Shrubs are named
fragrant, Indian, common; verbena, mallow,
yarrow. New-planted acacia, mossycup fallow
in late fall, leaves compound, attached, arranged
in fans, feathers, needles, awls, brush the rim
of sky’s inverted bowl. Steel spider, magnified
a thousand times, and walkers-by are dignified
by the gift of blue glass eggs, slung beneath a limb.