In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden
Last night the apple trees shook and gave each lettuce a heart
Six hard red apples broke through the greenhouse glass and
Landed in the middle of those ever-so-slightly green leaves
That seem no mix of seeds and soil but of pastels and light and
Chalk x’s mark our oaks that are supposed to be cut down
I’ve seen the neighbors frown when they look over the fence
And see our espalier pear trees bowing out of shape I did like that
They looked like candelabras against the wall but what’s the sense
In swooning over pruning I said as much to Mrs. Jones and I swear
She threw her cane at me and walked off down the street without
It has always puzzled me that people coo over bonsai trees when
You can squint your eyes and shrink anything without much of
A struggle ensued with some starlings and the strawberry nets
So after untangling the two I took the nets off and watched birds
With red beaks fly by all morning at the window I reread your letter
About how the castles you flew over made crenellated shadows on
The water in the rainbarrel has overflowed and made a small swamp
I think the potatoes might turn out slightly damp don’t worry
If there is no fog on the day you come home I will build a bonfire
So the smoke will make the cedars look the way you like them
To close I’m sorry there won’t be any salad and I love you
Until further notice Poetry Daily will devote Wednesdays to What Keeps Us, an impromptu series featuring poems that sustain and uplift through trying times. Each poem is accompanied with an image by author-illustrator Juana Medina (http://www.juanamedina.com). We thank you for reading and hope that you will share poems with your friends and neighbors. Please be well.
“In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden” from Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form.
© 2000 by Matthea Harvey.
Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.
Matthea Harvey is the author of five books of poetry—If the Tabloids are True What Are You?, Of Lamb (an illustrated erasure with images by Amy Jean Porter), Modern Life (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book), Sad Little Breathing Machine and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form. She has also published two children’s books, Cecil the Pet Glacier, illustrated by Giselle Potter and The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.
"In Harvey's intensely visual début collection of poems, a painter says of his self-portrait, 'It was bigger than me. The perspective was not mine.' Throughout, we meet artists and eccentrics obsessed with the reflections they cast, often shaping the world to match their private illusions: a gardener 'crows with / delight' as his sugar maple takes the form of a rooster; a woman paints her baseboards the color of her dachshund. Mournfully comic and syntactically inventive, Harvey's poems are both pleas for attentiveness ('Amaze me with / what you know. Do the barnacles really look / like ancient daisies, did the starfish really / turn orange & purple from holding on?') and elegies for the images we try, but fail, to capture."
— The New Yorker