In March, when the umpteenth blizzard graced the ground of New York City with another wallop of snow, who could have imagined this much green:
Never mind the blossoming colors in all variations of tint and hue, and poets, spouses of poets, and lovers of poems on foot for the Poetry Society of America’s annual benefit walk through the New York Botanical Gardens (click through thumbnails for full sized images):
Our “first course” was the Summer Exhibition, Groundbreakers: Great American Gardens in the Early 20th Century and The Extraordinary Women Who Designed Them. (On view til Sept 7, and a “must-see.”)
Punctuating the walk are large placards with poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay (curated by Eavan Boland) – teeming with references to plants and flowers. Who (other than a botanist) could know the names of so many different plants? I was thrown back to my early twenties when I discovered Millay’s great gift for summoning nature to fashion her exquisite poems.
After the walk, we had late-day drinks on the terrace of the Stone Mill, beside the water rushing over the rocks and ducks straining to paddle upstream.
Jill is also an upstream swimmer with her long list of poets whose work she has ushered into print, making our lives more livable and with pleasures of the enduring kind, not unlike the walk through the blossoming flowers with poetry in mind.
We were already feeling our good luck when something round and dense, with dark chocolate was served. In the end, as if to underscore the whole delightful evening, Jill read one of her recent poems:
The Lucky Ones
We were in the twilight of our lives.
Our labor suddenly realized in the crowns
of marigolds, blue eyes of the hydrangeas,
smell of lavender, and late bloom of the hosta’s
erect purple flower with its marvel of thick green leaves.
Each year we trimmed back and the garden grew
more lustrous and untamable as if the eternal woods
and animals asleep at night in its beds were claiming it back.
The water in the pool shimmered an icy Tuscan blue.
When we arrived we swam
until the stress from the grueling
life in the city released our bodies.
Later we sat under the umbrella and watched a garden snake
slip into the water, careful not to startle
its fight-or-flight response. Its barbed-wire
coil. Comet of danger, serpent of the water,
how long we had thwarted the venom of its secrets,
its lures and seductions.
It swam by arching then releasing
its slithery mercurial form.
Through the lanky trees we heard the excited cries
of the neighbor’s children, ours, the boy of our late youth,
of our happiness and our struggles, the boy who made us whole
and broken, was in his room perhaps dreaming
of a girl and sleeping the log and restful sleep of a teenager.
It was a miracle, our ignorance. It was grace
incarnate, how we never knew.
reprinted from The Kenyon Review,
Spring, 2014. Volume XXXVI, Number 2
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Gail Segal is a poet and a filmmaker. Her most recent chapbook, “The Discreet Charm of Prime Numbers,” was published in 2013 by Finishing Line Press. “Meanwhile, in Turkey,” a documentary short is circulating at festivals and her most recent film, “Filigrane,” is in post-production. She teaches in the Graduate Division of Film and Television at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.