Notes from One Spring
In the hospital, holding my granddaughter Katie, two hours old: she is red, chapped, her body raw, undone. The play of reactions on her face, fluid, transparent – an array that mirrors mind – sensations reactions impressions responses quick fleeting, cross it, are caught for moments, puzzlement or inchoate wonder. Playing on her tiny visage, the experience of a world. *** How delicate the orchid I’ve moved into this room: darker, smaller than the one I switched it with, curling scallops more like a butterfly, exquisite insect form. *** I don’t know what’s happening in the cutting bed. If I planted marguerites where I thought I planted cosmos, are they coming up, will they, are they just slow? The mountain bluet are over; if I cut them back, will they rebloom? The fragrance of flags – white iris – is as pervasive as the pale thin sunlight glazing every leaf or shoot. If the garden about which I know at least a little baffles me, what about my growing granddaughter? About whom I know everything and nothing. *** We begin as creatures, fundamental: the in-and-out chart my son keeps for Katie: eating and peeing and defecating. Almost all he says about her is focussed on these processes. She experiences hunger, cold, warmth, wetness, movement, noise, the pleasures and pains her body provides. What else? What is color or pattern like for her, what does she dream, does she dream, of what is she aware beyond bodily sensation? Of what is she conscious, what is it like to be her? *** Small birds flutter through the garden, larger ones go overhead. Light and shadow on leaves of the choke cherry, the tree hydrangea quiver and ripple, shift and shimmer; summer is stirred by morning; shaken, evenings, by storm. In the eastern sky, a plane. Our neighbor and her sister across the street come out, dressed in pink, cream, icy pastel colors, their hats flower-decked boats sailing on upswept hair, their faces veiled. On the skinny stems of high heels they are flowers too, blooming in the gray gloom, on their way to whose wedding, what celebration? *** In the film we saw yesterday at the Science Museum, the mountain climber whose mountain climber father died on the north face of the Iger when his son was nine is obsessed with climbing the same mountain; it will liberate him, he believes, from the fear and grief that imprisoned him at his father’s death. For this, he’ll risk inflicting that anguish on his daughter, eleven. When he survives the climb, he feels freed. Why? His childhood was what it was, as mine was. Our pasts exist still, have not been obliterated. *** My granddaughter’s no longer that not-quite- formed raw red creature, startlingly new; her skin’s pale, creamy. Her exhausted mother tells me she sleeps a lot; awake, cries a lot. Today, our windows open, I hear Katie crying, hear a bird insistent on making his sound, voices from a yard a few houses down where someone’s working. Call and response. Cries, voices, birds, the drum of a hammer, chitter of squirrels, drone of a plane. A radio comes on, an announcer’s voice, will there be music? It’s loud. It’s off. Around me, what is being built, torn down, rebuilt? *** Sage and raspberry thrive in this backyard, meanwhile something’s broken off new growth on the andromeda, phlox. I suspect a dog. The cutting bed, weeded, hoed, watered, mulched, is full now of zinnias and cosmos, sunflower studded among them. Where to put peonies next year, which is the sunniest spot in the backyard? I say peonies but I have only one, a frail thing. I may have killed that clump of ornamental grass I uprooted and replanted in the shade bed. The mountain bluet I divided has buds; it will rebloom. Experiment, experiment. To garden well is to be opportunistic, both intentional and spontaneous. *** Her mother can’t figure out why Katie’s fussing, she’s fed, dry, “You just don’t like being two months old, do you?” How we want to pierce that impassable barrier, unbridgeable gulf of distance between us, even mother and child, that isolate unsurmountable wall that locks us, from our beginnings, in the absolute loneliness of selfhood. We believe we can, that if we do it right, the barrier will vanish, enlightenment will tear down that prison, banish the suffering we need not inherit, pass on. We can’t. *** In raw rain, I plant a hundred crocus in the backyard lawn. I want more clematis, peonies. What fits in my life, where? Yesterday, the doctor I see every six months to check for growths says yes, it takes ten years to create a garden. I’ve begun.
Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, appeared in May, 2011 from Word Press. Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November, 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past thirty-five years in journals including Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, APR, Natural Bridge, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and The Colorado Review.