23 June 2013

Lessons of the Garden

"Cease looking for flowers. 
There blooms a garden in your own home." 
- Rumi
The prompt at my Saturday morning group June 22 was a poem called "The Lesson of Texas" by Cheryl Parsons Darnell, anthologized in a book called Wounded Healers (Rachel Naomi Remen, editor, Wounded Healers Press, 1994).*

We had just talked about various kinds of imagery--simile, metaphor, extended metaphor, personification and allusion. I used the poem as an example of extended metaphor, and we talked about its multiple layers of meaning.

I asked my group of writers to pen their own poem, story or essay on "The Lesson of ____," filling in the blank with whatever they chose and writing something that had more than one layer of meaning. I also asked them to use repetition of at least one phrase or sentence throughout their piece. Darnell repeats "do not surprise you" and "I grew up in Texas."

Here is what I wrote:

The Lesson of the Garden
by Susan Lawson

A girl’s got to be half-
way through her life
to call herself a gardener
and mean it.

She’s got to be halfway
through her life
to give herself the go-ahead
to dig in the earth and know
her own dirt for its true nature—
sand’s grit or clay’s muck,
so much rock up top
the plants cook
or so much rock below
the roots give up because
they can’t push through.

A girl’s got to be halfway through
her life before she learns
how to turn what she’s stuck with
into the fluffy crumbs called loam.
She’s got to be ready to make
a lot of mistakes before
comes together
because that’s how gardeners learn.
She’s got to resign herself to watching
innocents planted in the wrong place die
while interlopers over-run
an unsuspecting lawn.

A girl’s got to be halfway through her life
to recognize a good tool when she sees it—
the spade with the hardwood back
and relentless bite, the deep-brimmed hat that
shades her face, the clippers that make
short work of the thickest brush. She’s
got to be halfway through her life to respect
the contributions of all creatures—
worms for their composting,
ants for their fearlessness,
birds for their willingness to sing
while spreading seed—because,
let’s face it, she's going to hose off
a lot of bird and bug shit in her time.

So much so
she needs to
keep her eyes on
the prize of
cool water
on bare toes
at a hot day’s
end and
the righteous
slap of
wet soles
on concrete.

I said
to call herself a gardener
she’d have to mean it.

A girl’s got to be halfway through her life
before she learns
not to get in the way of
what nature sets in motion
for reasons all its own—
the raccoon who empties a duck nest
of its eggs, the drake who seems
to stalk and rape his mate,
the bony mallard wing cast off
by a hawk who’s had his fill.
She’s got to be halfway through her life
before she sees past ugliness
all the way to beauty.

I’ve heard people say that
life began in a garden and then
like some kind of calamity came along
in the shape of a girl and spoiled
it all. But I am a girl half-
way through my life and I say
Look around and I mean it:
We make a garden 
wherever we be.

* Thanks to Amy Lyles Wilson for sharing this prompt with me.