by Gillian Wegener
This is not a metaphor for anything.
It is what it is, this garden,
empty as a plate. The sage
and the rosemary gone. Lemon balm
pulled up clump by clingy clump.
Lavender dug up with an old spade.
The errant olive tree pulled out by the roots.
Even the lamb’s-ear, though loved,
had to go, as it never dried, and rotted
from the middle out each winter.
Now, the garden is a dirt display,
a land unimproved, unlovely, dirt
clods cuddling dirt clods, their
double-dug selves crumbling a little
at the edges under a sun made to sap
water from rock. And the question
becomes what to do, what to do. The gardener
has no plans, can’t think what plants, isn’t reading
books to plant plans in her middling mind.
Never mind, she thinks, never mind.
Let the worms and the weeds have their day.
Let the absent metaphor rustle in the absent leaves.
From This Sweet Haphazard © Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017.
Reprinted with permission.
I love when a poem completely surprises me, as this one does, all the way to the end. I can hardly count the number of poems I have read (and written, I must admit) about lush, verdant gardens, as well as those plots gone to seed or plowed under after the heady rush of summer. So often, we write about gardens as places of growth or harvest, or—once their time has passed—as evidence of the seasons turning over, time itself passing us by. Here, however, Gillian Wegener tells us from the outset that this “empty garden” will never serve as a larger metaphor for anything. She has cleared the land, made it “unlovely, dirt/clods cuddling dirt clods,” but now has no idea what to do with it. I especially appreciate the surrender of the final stanza, and the repeated phrase, “Never mind . . . never mind.” “Empty Garden” reminds me of the Pali word, sunyata, which can be loosely translated as “emptiness” or “voidness,” and which often refers to the meditative state of mind. It may seem, in this state, that very little is happening, and that the mind has emptied out, yet beneath the surface, essential work is always being done. Anyone who has entered this state while cleaning or exercising or sitting in the yard—or while actually meditating—knows that the mind is anything but empty, even if it has reached a temporary still point. “Let the worms and the weeds have their day,” Wegener at last proclaims, and we can almost hear the weary sigh beneath her words. How often have each of us wanted to let the lawn or garden go, wildness taking over our lives for at least a little while?