Today dawned clear—the third sunny day in a row in the Pacific Northwest—and we’ve spent the last two days in the yard: cutting back plants that didn’t survive the winter, turning mulch into the soil, spading compost into the planting beds.
A month ago, even though it was still raining, we optimistically poked a few snow-pea seeds into the soggy earth, dug in potatoes, and are now lining up four-inch pots in the greenhouse, a colorful deck of seed packets at the ready.
Gardening’s been on my mind for a few reasons. Serendipitously, Charles Goodrich, a colleague and friend, shared poems from his wonderful book Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden at a reading a few nights ago in Port Townsend. Funny, wry, and filled with insight into what makes us human, his prose poems arise from close observation and are steeped in the beauty and muck of the earth. Charles worked as a professional gardener for 25 years before taking his current post directing the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word, so it’s no surprise that gardening metaphors show up in his writing.
Here’s what he says about ritual in one of my favorite poems, “Interstition:”
Sticking to ritual makes things tick. Ask the robin sitting on her nest. Ask the lilacs beginning to bud….You might think its superstition, but it’s actually interstition, acting on blind faith that the individual things we see are all stitched together by something potent and invisible. Better not ask what it is. Just dig.
Here’s another timely poem from his collection:
Into each cell of the egg carton I tamp an egg’s worth of soil, then press into each seed-bed three seeds. I spritz them with tapwater, and place the carton on the windowsill above the kitchen sink.
A week later, the seedlings have arisen, every one. Twelve groves of tiny plants, each sprout just a pair of seed-leaves on a slender pinkish stem, succulent and alert.
But now I hesitate. If I really want full heads of lettuce, I have to thin these plants, have to pick up the scissors and kill two of each three. In the everlasting tussle between spirit and matter, no one knows when his time is up. I feel the blade at my own neck.
Goodrich’s collection of poems is a reminder that these rituals—the work of our daily lives—are always good fodder for contemplative and writing practice. If spring finds you with your hands in the warming earth, please share the poems you’re reading for inspiration—or write one of your own. Try using Charles’ prose poem as a model: begin by describing your gardening task in all its sensory, earthy details, then let the words carry you into metaphor or reflection.
Or, with spring cleaning in mind, think about what you can “thin” in your own life. How does it feel to let go of what impedes growth?
We hope you’ll share your poems here, too.
Yours, grateful to have her hands in the earth again,