Another Woman’s Garden

with thanks to Sheila and all who tended her garden

I wasn’t exactly happy, chopping back Russian Sage
Along the carport and rock-lined drive, piling
Dusty twigs, coughing. It had to be done. Happiness
Would only come in later summer days with fresh-
Branched acrid blooms. A pay off for my pruning.
It was cold at first, then warmer as I worked. First
I shed the hat, then coat, so stopped to don a bra.

Inheriting another’s plants, you learn
How she or her renters pruned. Or not.
By ragged or planed edges, I see where women
Broke or cut back growth with hands or shears,
Or simply let nature prune with years. I guess
The ages of all those women’s backs by how
Tenaciously established is the matted grass
In crowded strawberries. They anticipated me

Or perhaps their own flagging memory by leaving
Names: be grateful for brittle plastic cards
Next to crispy plants: Bleeding hearts—Dicentra,
Virginia Creeper—Parthenocissus quinquefolia,
Silvermound—Artemisia schmidtiana nana.
And mysterious red barked trees, only one tagged:
Montmorency Cherry—Prunus cerasus.
I get out garden books and look them up,
Marvel at what sisters are willing to give space to grow.
A lover of useful medicinals, I learn to accept
Other women’s medicines of color, shape, texture, scent.
Not all plants must be ingested. The eyes, the hands,
The taking in of nose-breath—these are mouths too.

I learn the messy logic of their winding rock-lined paths.
I learn their vision of layers—ground huggers to towers.
I learn the shapes of new leaves nestled in the clutch
Of last year’s deaths. Some stalks break like hollow straws
In my grasp, woody others need shears.
Bleached skeletons give tiny greens from their hearts.
I learn backwards, how death looks before life,
The way my sister’s face gave me a life-face.
I sprang from the center of her fade, newly bodied.

Faced with death, I try not to tug. Instead, I break stems
Flush to soil. Sometimes I do pull, examine and bend
Roots to see if they are wick, supple, rhizomes sending
Shoots. Most, if perennial, do not easily give up their grip.
In early April, some, like me, already whisper green.
Others do not. They need more wet and heat. I wait.
If they pull easily, my guess: simple annuals who carry on
By sending out black seeds. Who knows in which bed
Or designated path I will meet their lawless offspring.

2018

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