You making haste, haste on decay
— Robinson Jeffers
My neighbor’s pocket garden is going to seed.
The morning glory, its lone white bloom,
has taken over the back fence that separates
our yards, the pumpkin vines have run wild behind it,
untrammeled apple trees mass and reach, their ganglia
of twigs and leaves filling the white space
once there to dream on.
When he built it, we watched him lay down
the custom timbers that terrace and box
the vegetables, and carefully plant
the young fruit trees tagged for display.
Everyone praised his labor, the care he afforded
to shape this miniature Babylon.
Smartly designed and orderly, yielding
righteous crops in a small space, virtuous, gleaming,
the garden served as model for the neighbors,
inspiring and reproachful all at once. The small talk
about this or that planting piled up a silo’s worth
of goodwill — (a cordiality, it might be noted, prized
as much for its limits as its social lubrication).
After the harvest and through the winter, whisps
of envy and imagined slights — squash falling
on the wrong side of the fence, the failure to consult
about the sleek, modern beehive wedged
on the property line — unsubstantial as smoke
in November’s cold, drifted away by January.
Come March the colony of rabbits who had taken
residence, brazenly surged forth to graze the clover
and sweet young grass of the adjoining lawns,
a sign not of the garden’s emergent fruitfulness
but its abandonment. This is the most enchanting
part, the overgrowth, the rusting barrow filled with rainwater,
the hoe and other tools left where they were last used,
like a scene from the retreat of a fallen army.
Oh, that magic feeling
Nowhere to go, nowhere to go
— The Beatles
It’s been a career of failure since
I flunked math every high school year,
then drifted through summer make-up
focused only on certain important songs
like “Tighten Up,” or “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies,”
the floating bass line and scratching guitar,
the mocking smooth jazz, smart-alecky
xylophone jiffy-popping around deviant lyrics.
Time inures to terror, contemptuous looks, tense
family dinners that glance away like sleet
on a metal roof. What is gained: freedom
when the bottom drops away, the suspended edge.
Uncertain crossing, incomparable high, weightless
laughing. Not much more needed than
sturdy boots and a jacket.
And then digging out, the recovery. A new thing,
a project, a job. Growing stronger like the Hulk
smashing puny humans in the way,
amazing everyone with cat-like survival skills.
Exulting in sheer being, the world on its heels.
Reading a worn paperback about a Turkish harem
in a garage loft. Playing the flaneur on a late
September day, looking for Annette’s house, clear,
Then one day, I am sipping from a pint of milk,
lips luxuriating in the supra-white swill. Maundering
by the modernist music hall, fading statement
set against brick mansions from long ago,
sagging frame houses all around.
And I see, passing the music hall, an old man,
same size build, same wire-rim glasses, sipping
from the same pint of milk, walking at the same pace,
going the opposite way.
Photo by Leslie Saunders on Unsplash.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Jonathan Cohen lives on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound with his wife, daughters, and a hound dog. A graduate of Kenyon College, he studies poetry with Jon Davis.