Sunday, June 13, 2010

20. The Earth, Worked, and Out

A garden doesn’t grow
on its own, it is not a wild place
though it is where wild things
grow, horehound being nothing
but a weed, tomatoes being
little more than whatever
springs up from a place where
birds have shat, any flower
is a physical expression of
uninhibited desire, a vegetable’s
unconscious urge towards
pollination, procreation, the
extension of its genetic material
into an unknown future. It is
the human hand, your hand
in the cool loamy soil, that
makes a garden be, that pinches
suckers off, trims every plant
into place, weeds out the even
wilder plants, and nutures
these tender green things filled
with a green blood, plump with
urge and desire, to grow and
spread, to pull water and sunshine,
to sprout fruits, to multiply
leaves, to stay, to become, to
make, in a little rectangular
corner of a large shapeless world,
a bit of fruit, food, flower, and
perfume to quell that human
need to restrain, to direct, to
make, to eat, to breathe, to
suck the tiny sticky green life
and blood out of the green
entanglements of the garden,
to survive and enjoy that survival.

You have those two hands
to work the soil, that body made
for the sun and rain, toughened
in a winter’s plowing of snow
out of a infinite white sky, skin
browned into soft callus and
miniscule furrows around
those eyes that find the distance
between two plants, the layout of
a garden, that pattern of human
order on the natural world we
cannot be more a part of or
distinct from, those feet that
steady as the shovel your foot
(with the grip of your hands, the
eyes measuring the distances)
shoves into the earth, the left
foot behind and holding you
in place, as a pair of compasses such
that you might spin upon a fixed
spot, your nose that gulps the
sweet air, dark earth, warm
humus, multiple aromas of herbs
(rosemary, lemon balm, a purple
basil, the deep green bite of thyme)
out of the tepid breatheless air
so that you find the beauty in
the breathing out that only the
breathing in can sustain on
a humid motionless day in a
wet garden drinking hose water
into its black maw, its soft dark
rotting soil the best harbinger
of harvest from those tiny plots
against the earth’s desire for
disorder, for chance, each living
thing given a mindless opportunity
that human planning can best
divert—those are your tools more
than trowel, shovel, rake, shears
that remove so that more can fill
the open space between the ends
of each green plant and the air
encircling but holding nothing back,

and those are the tools you hold,
hand held inside a hand, to work
the wood, in planks and boards, in
small runs of black walnut, of
tiger-eye maple, of birch into
shelves or stools or boxes to hold
something, to keep in place, and
you have only simple tools, palm
of hand, those myriad reticulated
fingers that bend and buttress
each other, that hold in place, that
push forward or into, the nails of
each finger to anchor, to mark,
to scratch away some minute
fragment of a flaw out of place,
knuckles that plant or balance or
test the hollowness of, and even
the blood that flows through blue-
green conduits of twisting veins
through and around those fingers
and feeds the body that makes it.
Every wood is the body of a plant
cut at right angles into shapes a
human understands so that the
grain of the wood comes clear,
the scent rises out of hardened
xylem (its system of tracheids
and vessels invisible to us), any
torquing of the wood becomes
obvious to your eye along the
sawn edge of it, so that it becomes
a living thing again, each board
different in weight and color,
taking the saw, the chisel, the
drill, or sandpaper differently,
giving away its body easily or
resisting the pull, the push your
hands might give against it,
the pressure of the body that
makes the word conform into
some beautiful piece of
planning, some careful system
of structured utility.

These things you bring and
make, these ways of order
upon the vagrant earth, these
ways of beauty, a box of wood,
a box of earth, something
simple yet sturdy, something
durable, perennial, almost
forever, something that grows
or is but conforms to
that managed imagination of
the craftsman, whose craft is
handwork, how your hands
dance against the face of the
wood, the body of the plant,
each living thing giving itself
over in your hands that it might
be tame and useful, beautiful
to the eye or tongue, tempting
and tempted, rolled over inside
a palm and into your other so that
its weight can be measured against
its smoothness, its balance, in
a world so out of balance it requires
such forms to give it meaning,
direction, the subtle slumberous
diversions of your mind at play
and making up the earth each day.

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