December 16: “Tanka Diary [Awakened too early on Saturday morning]”

Awakened too early on Saturday morning
by the song of a mockingbird
imitating my clock radio alarm.

*

Walking along the green path with buds
in my ears, too engrossed in the morning news
to listen to the stillness of the garden.

— Harryette Mullen

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September 4: “Three Songs at the End of Summer”

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket …
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

— Jane Kenyon

August 17: “Late Summer”

Now cosmos in bloom and snow-in-summer
opening along the garden’s stone borders,

a moment toward a little good fortune,
water from the watering can,

to blossom, so natural, it seems, and still
the oldest blooms outside my door are flourishing

according to their seedtime.
They have lived as in trust

of tended ground, not of many seasons
as the lingering bud in late summer,

when leaves have reached their greenest,
when a chill enters the nights,

when a star I’ve turned to, night after night,
vanished in the shift of constellations.

But when on a bare branch,
even in August, a sprig starts,

sprig to stem—as if to say, See,
there’s kinship with the perennials

you think so hardy—voice
the moment among the oaks, toast

the spring in summer, as once each May
a shot of vodka is poured on bare dirt

among gravestones to quench the dead,
among the first stars of this new evening.

— James Brasfield

May 6: “Jailbreak”

It’s time to break out —
Jailbreak time.
Time to punch our way out of
the dark winter prison.
Lilacs are doing it
in sudden explosions of soft purple,
And the jasmine vines, and ranunculus, too.
There is no jailer powerful enough
to hold Spring contained.
Let that be a lesson.
Stop holding back the blossoming!
Quit shutting eyes and gritting teeth,
curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders.
Lose your determination to remain unchanged.
All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?

— Maya Spector

March 16: “Simplicity”

It opens, the gate to the garden
with the docility of a page
that frequent devotion questions
and inside, my gaze
has no need to fix on objects
that already exist, exact, in memory.
I know the customs and souls
and that dialect of allusions
that every human gathering goes weaving.
I’ve no need to speak
nor claim false privilege;
they know me well who surround me here,
know well my afflictions and weakness.
This is to reach the highest thing,
that Heaven perhaps will grant us:
not admiration or victory
but simply to be accepted
as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones and trees.

— Jorge Luis Borges

January 17: “Beverly Hills, Chicago”

The dry brown coughing beneath their feet,
(Only a while, for the handyman is on his way)
These people walk their golden gardens.
We say ourselves fortunate to be driving by today.

That we may look at them, in their gardens where
The summer ripeness rots. But not raggedly.
Even the leaves fall down in lovelier patterns here.
And the refuse, the refuse is a neat brilliancy.

When they flow sweetly into their houses
With softness and slowness touched by that everlasting gold,
We know what they go to. To tea. But that does not mean
They will throw some little black dots into some water and add sugar and the juice of the
cheapest lemons that are sold,

While downstairs that woman’s vague phonograph bleats, “Knock me a kiss.”
And the living all to be made again in the sweatingest physical manner
Tomorrow….Not that anybody is saying that these people have no trouble.
Merely that it is trouble with a gold-flecked beautiful banner.

Nobody is saying that these people do not ultimately cease to be. And
Sometimes their passings are even more painful than ours.
It is just that so often they live till their hair is white.
They make excellent corpses, among the expensive flowers….

Nobody is furious. Nobody hates these people.
At least, nobody driving by in this car.
It is only natural, however, that it should occur to us
How much more fortunate they are than we are.

It is only natural that we should look and look
At their wood and brick and stone
And think, while a breath of pine blows,
How different these are from our own.

We do not want them to have less.
But it is only natural that we should think we have not enough.
We drive on, we drive on.
When we speak to each other our voices are a little gruff.

— Gwendolyn Brooks