Summer Gardens Somewhere Else, With Gardeners


Elam picked among his clarities

to find the first black apples oozing

out their mutant blooms inside his nervous

garden. Rows of brainflowers, fat as cabbages,

were throbbing on their stems in full sun

beside grotesqueries like rosewood skeletons,

the pulmonary shrubs, and venous orchids

gorgeous as stained glass.



he must have thought that sanity would bring

him peace of mind, because he never did

prepare for instinct in his enterprise.

Few if any knew about his creatures,

starting with the birds: out of uncountable

panicles of some forgotten bloom,


he cloned a pigeon that would flit erratically

amid the equinoctial fogs on lobed,

primitive wings he fledged in tendrils and leaves.

That was his baptismal try at flight.

Pigeons. Afterwards he rooted his

Cerulean warblers in the combs of grasses

edging every patio–where musically

they classified as news, though ecologically

they were unsound, like his cranes before

he got the hang of it, painted like

Max Factor, cloned from water plants

as pink as harlots, as carnivals, and floating

over goldfish. Loons in the long canals

crooned their funeral songs.


One morning

while he stoked the nursery stove, his hunger

spoke for a time, and noted that he hadn’t

seen the end of his manipulations–

and though he later brought his wolves to birth,

and jimmied bears from various and insectivorous



and had the nightly fruit bats depending

from prodigious fuchsia, and suspended his

amphibians within elusive tubers–

all of which signaled a crescendo–,

yet what he’d understood of his desire

was meant as fair warning. Let us walk

a little while together, he would say

to Sarah as the wasps would carry on

around the apricots, and serpents were,

like subways, hissing beneath them among

the mushrooms. Everything is still dying.

I Want To Say Something About Pumpkins

Because it’s about that time of year again: I have trays of soil that I have seeded with various kinds of vegetable, summer promises–one of which is pumpkins. There are other things I grow, of course, like the basil and tomatoes I love for the aroma they broadcast into the air around the garden. But I love pumpkins for their magical, transformational energy. I never see a pumpkin on the ground, one of my big ones, without thinking about enchanting it into a coach. I swear, one of these days I’ll do it. To have my giant pumpkin vines dashing out of the garden plot onto the lawn, and down toward the street, is to be invited to a foot race. I want to sprint alongside of them.


Maria Hummel, in her book House and Fire, has a poem that captures something of the hyperbole of pumpkins–something of that need, once you have really looked at pumpkins, to invent legends about them.

A Thousand Faces

In the creation myths of pumpkin,
bellies grew first, billowing out
before the light, the sea and flowers.

And the bellies commanded the void:
let there be hollows in this darkness
and arches hung with pulp as soft

as the inside of a cheek; let there
be a cathedral for seeds, a favorite
purse in the garden’s green closet.

So the pumpkins grew into portly
multitudes that try not to trumpet
their superiority, each laden

with irreplaceable burdens,
each shape original and derivative,
the plump bulge of matrons,

taut barrels of elderly generals–
and what of that color? Is there
a wish in this world that can blush

as beautifully as the pumpkin?
Gold for secrecy, red for richness
and blessing, a yam paint

mixed with the flush on a girl’s
face the first night she realizes
how to possess her body, then

darkened by rain, autumn, waiting.
The love affairs of pumpkins
are always long, full of slow kisses

and vacations postponed
in favor of staying on the mound,
savoring some peace and quiet

for once, this fragile forever.
In the lame stories of pumpkin
heroes, the bravest line up at dawn

to be carved and shattered for the glory
of harvest, but the waning garden
refuses to cheer for them, or perhaps–

like the sea and its waves, or a mother
watching her sons ride away–it merely
calls too softly for them to hear:

Come back, let me open
for you again, you are mine,
you would never break inside me.

I couldn’t resist this, it’s one of my favorite pictures: a small, mystical life amid the pile of other lives with their orange glow. The little girl pictured here is now 28 years old, and has grown exquisitely into herself. But the photo reminds me of other of Maria Hummel’s poems. She will break your heart, and then heal it again, with her poems about her very ill infant son. For example:


Today your arm eats strawberries.
Tomorrow birthday cake and toast.
The tubes go in, their liquid clear.

As our life at home grows far
and faint, food becomes a ghost.
Today your arm ate strawberries.

I read you books on dinosaurs,
their lost hungers, fallen bones.
The tubes go in, their liquid clear.

I once loved words, their
fat red flesh, their roar and moan.
Today your arm eats strawberries

and what it tastes can never
be named or held or known.
The tubes go in, thin and clear,

sewing your skin to poles and air.
I once loved a meadow,
its clear little stream, lying there
on my arms, eating strawberries.

Her poem is a villanelle, which she brings off without visible effort. I have to keep going back to re-read it to see how she does it. The formal repetitions and cascading refrains remind me of the kinds of repetitions you find in early children’s books, such as Dr. Seuss, or maybe Sendak’s Chicken Soup With Rice–though here that reminiscence brings little joy, but instead conveys a wistful longing for an innocence neither she nor her son are allowed. Here the form, with its fragile order, must contain all sorrows, and bind the chaos of all fears. It’s a lot to ask. It’s a lot to live through.





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