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Beyond Words

Steady My Laden Head [by Mary Gilliland]

The hours don’t count, I don’t count the hours. This is not a task but an activity. Unassigned. A practically involuntary part of the day, sowing itself in my unconscious during times I might not be physically involved. I’m winging it, without formal education. It looks like I have chosen to engage, but really the chooser was something larger that said Do.

What is done is admired by walkers on the South Hill Recreation Way, both people I have met before, and people I will never know. A couple with their dog stopped along the trail while I was weeding not far away, uphill: “When we see these flowers, every year, we know that spring’s really here!” This was during the era of my corralling Garlic Mustard by—every autumn—laying down Dame’s Rocket seedheads on areas among the trees where I’d weeded out G-M. Yes, “like a gleaner [I did] keep/steady my laden head across a brook”—the freshet, that is, Inv-Week-June-3-d
behind our shed, that by this time of year is a dry streambed. My strategy was to replace the invasive with a secondary invasive, one that blooms more prettily and at first glance looks like phlox. A place holder.

The scent of hesperis matronalis rises in the evening. The flowers bloom pink, mauve, white, purple and, sometimes, an eye-catching white streaked with one of the other hues, or vice versa. Those I would mentally note to let stand through the frost. The seeds matured, then I deliberately scattered them in new areas in order to multiply the striated enchantment. Which, last year, I discovered is caused not by genes but by a virus. Was it nature or culture that brought me the next-door neighbor whose PhD research focused on plant-virus interactions? Lizzie studied host and pathogen as they co-evolved; my brassica species, Dame’s Rocket, hosts turnip mosaic virus—resulting in variegated color in the flowers.

Turning the rocky hillside acre into a garden began with an earlier next-door neighbor’s retirement. He was of the tribe who trim every blade of grass to the same length, edge the sidewalk and allow no chipped paint on trim or siding.“Mary,” he asked after once more perfecting his holdings, “would you mind if I took some of those privet bushes out of your woods?” When purchased, our house had been closed in by invasive privet and Japanese honeysuckle, up to every door. By the time Walt posed his question, there was some green lawn, my husband’s joy. I imagined the clearance would lead to lovely walks in our very own wood after a day of teaching. But the cleared land was, next spring, thickly carpeted with a mystery plant. Helped by a few students, I pulled them all out. They returned. Pull. Return. And again. GarlicMustard had just begun its inexorable march across the Lower Forty-eight.

Hence the mass plantings: of deer-proof perennials that spread. Not so many rocket now, but cowslips, hellebore, brunnera, primrose varieties (including Wanda
Wanda!), pulmonaria, trachystemon, comfrey, andcetera, follow spring’s explosion of flowering bulbs, ephemeral pink corydalis, Virginia bluebells.

I garden at the end of a one-block cul de sac. This area bordering the woods is classified on the municipal maps as vacant land. Yes, it’s poetry.

                                                                                ——MG, 5 October 2022


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Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

ThisWayOut
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