(with a nod to Billy Tuggle)
America’s too in love
with Whitman’s barbaric yawp
ever to offer honor soft words
This is why I’ve almost
stopped offering the latter to anyone:
it left me feeling almost
un-American to do that
and what I’ve been called
for daring to care about
others, there is no need to repeat;
I’m sure you know the words.
The single cry over
the collective voice.
bastardization of language
toward selfish ends.
nation, founded on
and plunder. And yet
are communities where people
speak quietly under the Shadow,
in spite of it,
and only raise their voices
in amplification of what was said
while the nation wasn’t listening,
or in song. That’s part of
America too, although I think
it needs a different word than American
to describe where it comes from:
human, perhaps. Civilized, maybe.
The fence along the downhill side of the house
is white and old with ragged points
on some of the slats but it holds up well enough
to prop up cucumber vines and shield
tomato plants from too-strong wind and sun.
For years now I’ve lined up
containers — scavenged totes long without tops
and pickle bucket from behind a fast-food joint —
and made a garden along this fence
that runs along the sidewalk that runs
from street to the back stoop. Eggplants,
tomatoes large and small, squash and beans,
cukes and sometimes herbs and more;
I have somehow become my grandfather,
who died inside for the most part
when he could no longer get outside
to plant and grow and tend.
I do not yet walk with his bent frame
and my knees still move fairly well
though the stairs slow me down
and my hands are stiffer than they once were,
stiffer than I ever thought they’d be.
I thought I’d die before I got this old.
When I was young there was a song
that wished for that to happen
and I understand it now —
each day I wake up filled
with the fear of death
for these plants;
each day spent warding off bottom rot and vine borers,
losing patience with the weather, growing anxious
about that just glimpsed ground hog and where he went
after running through the front yard
like some portly reaper of the fruits
of my hard work —
it’s all anxiety now: disease and theft,
my body not strong enough
to match my will, and will I have the resources
to make any of this work until harvest time?
I stand up from the couch to go outside and try;
creaking like Papa did, I go out to try while I still can.