Monday, July 18, 2011

`The Work of Seasons and of Hands Unseen'

If a garden implies order, the backyard is less garden than semi–domesticated nature. A post oak pruned for horizontal sprawl and shade grows from a hole in the wooden deck. Twenty feet to the northeast stands a loblolly pine, suggesting an oversized bottle brush. Along the vine-covered fence grow Southern wax-myrtle, parsley hawthorn, oleanders, papyrus, two palmettos with trunks like artichokes carved from wood, and two sego palms – few flowers and nothing edible by humans.

As I write, a grackle splashes in the bird bath, in the shade of the post oak. Twice a day the owner sows “critter food” on the grass, attracting squirrels, rats (now deceased) and dozens of birds. One morning last week, like a tableau vivant of Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” eight species foraged at the same time on the ground and in the bird feeders -- mourning dove (most numerous), white-winged dove (“who-cooks-for-you”), blue jay, downy woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, robin (“cheerily, cheer-up, cheerio”), pine warbler and a female cardinal.
It’s my sort of garden – almost orderly, almost wild. In “The Garden” (New Collected Poems, 2009) Charles Tomlinson dismisses those who dismiss gardens as “merely the expression of a class / Masterful enough to enamel away / All signs of the labour that produced them.” Rubbish. All classes and most individuals love a garden. (Go here.) The one Tomlinson visits is in Gloucestershire, and it gives him another opportunity to slap the critics (of gardens, of poems):
“One must smile
At the irritability of critics, who
Impotent to produce, secrete over what they see
Their dislike or semi-assent, then blame
The thing they have tamed for being tame.” 

Tomlinson moves on to more important matters: 

“But today, see only how
Laden in leaves, the branchwork canopy—
Bough on bough, rearing a dense
Mobile architecture—shudders beneath its finery
In cool July.” 

The July coolness here in Houston is a Northern dream, but the “dense / Mobile architecture” is a transcription of what I see out the rear window and every weekday on campus, where the live oaks weave a canopy almost orderly, almost wild, “The work of seasons and of hands unseen / Tempering time.”

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