Sunday, January 12, 2014

Garden club

This is the poem I talked about before.  It's from a library book that I returned on Saturday.  This could have presented a dilemma.  There's probably a website I could have copied it from and pasted it here, but that never feels right.  So I wrote the words down in ballpoint on a newspaper before I dropped the book in the return slot.  Transcribing it that way gave me a new appreciation of how the poem - about three gardeners important in the early life of poet Theodore Roethke - isn't just sweet.  It's also trippy as hell.  Someone besides me might be able to name a substance that has both those qualities.

Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartze

Gone the three ancient ladies
Who creaked on the greenhouse ladders
Reaching up white strings
To wind, to wind
The sweet-pea tendrils, the smilax,
Nasturtiums, the climbing
Roses, to straighten
Carnations, red
Chrysanthemums; the stiff
Stems, jointed like corn,
They tied and tucked
These nurses of nobody else.
Quicker than birds, they dipped
Up and sifted the dirt;
They sprinkled and shook;
They stood astride pipes;
Their skirts billowing out wide into tents,
Their hands twinkling with wet;
Like witches they flew along rows
Keeping creation at ease;
With a tendril for needle
They sewed up the air with a stem;
They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep,—
All the coils, loops, and whorls
They trellised the sun, they plotted for more than themselves.

I remember how they picked me up, a spindly kid,
Pinching and poking my thin ribs
Till I lay in their laps, laughing,
Weak as a whiffet;
Now, when I'm alone and cold in my bed,
They still hover over me,
These ancient leathery crones,
With their bandannas stiffened with sweat,
And their thorn-bitten wrists,
And their snuff-laden breath blowing lightly over me in my first sleep.


susan said...

It's certainly a fine enough poem to have been worth writing out in longhand. Earlier today when I read it the first time it struck me as a transcendent vision rather than a memory of childhood. I still think that's true. No drugs I've ever heard of could supply such awareness.

I might borrow this one for a post to paint - if I can summon a theme from it I'm capable of illustrating.

Ben said...

It's interesting that transcendent visions and memories of childhood can resemble each other like that. William Blake was definitely conscious of that.

I'd love to see the painting that you get out of that. I've never had any reason to doubt your capabilities.