Renee Gregorio first flashed onscreen for me in an indie flick I watched in New Mexico where women poets were being interviewed about femininity, turn of phrase, and life in general. She had a shock of dark hair, a beautiful face, and an animated way of speaking--her whole body an instrument for the expression. The next morning, I went to the bookstore there and bought The Storm That Tames Us after reading it beneath the eaves on the upper floor and quite forgetting where I was or who I was for several delicious hours.
Earlier this week, I decided not to buy any new books for a little while. This impulse arose largely out of the fact that at a recent bookstore trip, I came within a heartbeat of buying a book but for some reason put it back on the shelf. When I came home to my bookcases, I went to the reference section (yes, my books are arranged by type) and saw that I already had a copy of the exact book I very nearly purchased. This gave me pause...I get a heady excitement out of discovering a new writer or poet--out of the scavenger hunt of the bookstore or library shelves--out of the cracking open of a new volume's spine. But, how often do I give these books a deep reading--the kind where my pencil comes out (yes, I deface my books too) and I savor every last morsel of word? I pulled an old favorite off the shelves and dipped into it...Gregorio's book quickly followed. I am enjoying my bookish reunion right now in the random moments between chasing my own story down, digging in the garden, and looking after one or another of the children who populate these parts.
When I saw that Poetry Thursday was in honor of "meeting the randomizer"--and I glanced up and saw the word SOIL as my prompt, I laughed. I've been finding soil beneath my fingernails, over the floorboards, smudged into journal pages and freewrites, even flaking over the skin of one of my characters. I've been dividing bleeding hearts and transplanting hostas and columbine...tilling fresh beds for the vegetables I hope to put in this weekend. It is a very full day--meeting my self-imposed page requirements for the book, lost in thoughts and flimsy-dreamy things...then, getting on my boots and garden gloves and getting outside where the tangible churning of the earth settles my mind again. I am offering one of Gregorio's poems today because I find myself reciting snippets of it when I'm tearing out weeds and severing errant roots, because--quite frankly--it is a living, breathing, writing harvest by a talented gardener.
Raking the Wild
I rake raw dirt,
spread seed as if it mattered
that things be given the chance to grow.
This wilderness made
of earth hard from neglect.
What does manage to grow has come
randomly and with abandon--
mostly weeds and sprigs from the Chinese elm
that take tenacious hold in
the soil of the old riverbed.
The only thing to do is begin.
Rake till the soil has breath.
Plant seeds of wildflowers
in this yard defined by chaos,
wanting to believe
they will take root and grow.
This neighborhood belongs to anyone who dares--
high-heeled shoe on bare concrete,
drains where water goes all the way to the river,
families who've lived here through grandchildren--
Barelas, where sun sets under birdsong and clammer.
An old woman walks by with her hair braided tightly
to her head, holding the hands of two dark-skinned boys.
I watch from the organic fortress that is my house,
clear burlap bags, Burger King wrappers, Styrofoam cups
from the empty lot of my yard.
An old man in a grey suit and felt hat
walks through the abandoned alley on his way to church,
bows his head in greeting,
his elegance spilling into this seasoned air.
by Renee Gregorio, 1999
For every bit of creation, there must almost always be some sort of destruction to keep the balance just right--and we seem to bear that in mind around here as second nature. While I have been introducing life and creating garden beds, M. has been tearing down the shed my father built the summer I was born. I cannot tell you how many pictures I have taken of its various stages of destruction or how unexpectedly emotional this process has been for me. There is a remembrance in every splintered board and rusted nail--the peeling paint and wasted state of the structure itself cannot help but lend itself to some metaphor of my family history. I've asked him to save one small section of the shed itself for me and though he looked at me with his clear, rational blue eyes with surprise he said, "Of course" instead of asking questions. I wandered back over to the side yard and struck the shovel against the soil again until dusk came on and I felt I'd left some trace of potential growth in the landscape of my memories. The only thing to do is begin...however many times it takes.
a section of the freshly-dug vegetable bed, pre-compost
the intrepid gardener at work
to encourage all of the veggie-phobes in the house to try something new (myself included)
a store-bought tomato to tide us over until the "real thing"
fragments of the shed
Labels: Poetry Thursday