I sat at the top of the basement stairs last night in case the house blew off the ground. The storm was that bad. I can’t say I was terrified but I was a bit worried. Mostly about paper things. All those items that need to be in place before disaster hits. I was not sure where all the mortgage papers and other important documents were. I never did buy a metal safe for them. It’s too late now. I spent all my extra money on flowers for the garden. And, disasters and paper don’t seem to matter much anymore.
The power went off suddenly. All was black and then I did get worried. The sump pump might go off and then a flood in the basement. Then just as suddenly it came back on. The worst thing about the power outages are when the power people have to go traipsing through the garden to repair the lines. One of the utility poles is at the back of the garden. I still can’t believe I bought this house, knowing that, or not knowing. I was not knowing a lot of things back then and not knowing is a lifestyle at this point. So, really, all I ever care about is the garden, and that someone or something will come and trample it, trespass on it, eat it, drown it, bury it, scorch it, poison it, or simply take it away, like a roof blown off a house.
The garden. Because the garden, and only the garden is keeping me alive. Keeping me alive in the swamp and it is a swamp, of anxiety, worry, depression, anger, frustration, fear. Fear is always with me now, except in the garden. Oh. I forgot about the skunks and raccoons, and rats and mice (there are no rats and mice but the fear of them is there). And the crows, hawks, and rabbits. The rabbits were late in coming this year and I was secretly hoping they had disappeared forever from this planet earth. Then they came. At first one tiny rabbit. A baby. A cute little thing that ended up eating every inch of clover among the grass and helped destroy the lawn long before the drought. It’s hard to be angry at the little thing so I left it alone. Go and ravage my garden then, see if I care. Then strange, gangly, wild looking rabbits appeared. Yesterday when I stepped outside to wait for you one of them lunged at me from the bushes. It jumped three feet in the air and honestly I thought it was attacking me. Then two others showed up and started jumping up and down like hyenas and then running around like dervishes in circles. Circles and circles of rabbit insanity. They look like ugly little humans. Starving, sick, demented ones. I stopped caring and stopped using that organic rabbit deterrent to keep them from eating all the flowers– they start on those after the clover. They can have them.
That was a lie. I still care about the garden. But not the rabbits, or the skunks, or raccoons, or the cats and dogs. The garden and the birds only. If the garden and the birds disappeared there would be no reason to live anymore. But, still, I wait for the garden and the birds to disappear. Then where will I go? I hope for that other place that I see sometimes in the dead of night or wee hours of the morning. Dark violet shadows with a slight perfume of rot. The royal rot of gardens. The rot of beauty, green leaves, and grasses, old roses. Ghosts even, ghosts who walk here when I sleep…….. Rain. Yesterday’s rain percolating deep down in the roots of grass. The roots of uselessness. Grass. It is useless. But what a perfume! The freshly mowed lawn that smells like Auntie’s broken glass jello cake, Grandmother’s cucumber salad, Beatrix Potter’s watercress sandwiches for imaginary friends, a sweet pea flower. Total blackness that still reveals different shades of greens and blues that no artist will ever capture on a canvass. And then, when it starts to get light, you don’t want the light, you want to remain in the violet shadows where, when you look down, you see the dew just starting to emerge as though from the tiny mouths of wood sprites. Maybe you could wish yourself into a sprite, a violet, a lily of the valley or even a fat orange pumpkin come fall. Anything but this human body wandering now, struggling on this planet earth to file the mortgage, the will, finish up the tithing, arrange funerals and after parties, and still send invitations for ongoing musical events. That end in meditative musings on the stairways of dark basements.
I sometimes work from before dawn to after dusk in the garden. And then after I am finished I look around and see nothing. What did I actually do? What is different? What is there really to see and hear or feel? What is that scent, that really is not a scent at all. What is a garden, if not a figment of my imagination? A garden of the past, a garden of the present, a garden of the future. Oh my garden! How many dreams I had of you, how many wishes, how many frustrations, how much heartache, how many winds and storms and hurricane rains, droughts and lashings it, and I, have had. And no one ever truly sees what it is, feels what it is, knows what it is. Not a rose bush or pot of petunias, rows of parsley and thyme, cucumbers trailing on a vine. Tomatoes being coaxed into luscious red fruit, wisterias gone mad, morning glories strewn all over carless driveways, nasturtiums that will not grow in sun or shade, dirt or sand, then suddenly burst out like an Arizona sunset.
Sometimes a bird appears and both dazzles and startles me. But they seem of late restless, angry, erratic in their flying, eating, bathing and singing. Sunday morning a bird woke me up at 4:30 a.m. One lone bird singing. Not a robin or a cardinal or a finch. Do finches sing? I don’t even know. Chickadees? I think chickadees make those charming little abbreviated calls, worth just a tiny fraction of a note, not a note at all, something just barely escaping the throat, like a croak-song they want to take back and finish later.. but it flys out of their tiny mouth because the birds, really, don’t know what to sing anymore. You would think I would know by now what bird was calling out at 4:30 a.m. A simple sweet melody yet no one was calling back as birds often do. But call out it did, waking me as from the dead to come back to the garden.
After the deluge, the hurricane like winds, and after I sat in the basement wondering when the house will fall down, it all stopped as suddenly as it began and not a drop of water in the basement. Not a sound, not a mouse stirring, and yes it felt like Christmas, it was that cold. Though it was Father’s Day, all I felt was dazed, numb and sad. Oh Father where art Thou?
I walked out into the garden, fearing what destruction I would see or what startling beauty would be emerging after a month’s drought. Though I watered and watered and watered all these searing hot months, the garden was weak, limp, drab, heartless, gardenless, greenless, blueless, cloverless, scentless, seriously barren like a sad sad woman, seriously mad like a monster, bad like a villain, atrocious like a killer, wounded like a soldier, weakened like a mouse without a house, without a morsel of cheese, seriously sick like a leper, demented like the rabbits who still spin like dervishes and gnaw at anything and everything in their paths… and sad like the birds that this morning sang so feebly, as though anorexic, dying of hunger, thirst, or human cancer. At 4:30 a.m. instead of a rejoicing choir all I heard was a faint whisper of bird sound, a faint tiny heart beat or two, a thump and groan of a green frog lost in the garden, coming here from some distant watery land, and bemoaning its tiny stupid brain blunder… oh dear this throttling life, and the birds even, the stalwart little soldiers of the morning, the jack in the tree box circuses of joy, and all the chirping, flitting, flirting with the sun and the moon and the stars….. suddenly gone.
I walked out with my coffee, in the cup I bought with dear dear Madeline so long ago. Madeline with her Buddhist Wisconsin heart, still strewing all the beds in my garden with her Big Smile day lilies.
All the work of the day before, where was it? The last thing I did in the garden, was walk around in circles and circles for hours, like the demented rabbits, looking and searching for beauty, looking for my own personal paradise. Picking up every pot and urn and rearranging them in every bed, under every tree and shrub in the garden, trying to reach some perfection, create a breathtaking landscape to wake up to, go to sleep to, feed my illusions and delusions. Trying to complete a final canvass that would erase every inch of ugliness from life outside its borders. Struggling to lift that massive pot with alyssum, euphorbia and balloon flowers, and triumphantly setting it down on that plant stand like a crown, and then, already longing to see it bloom not in flowers but masses of clouds in blue, white and gold, and spread out its stems like eagle wings, so I could sail away.
Instead I saw the pot lying broken in pieces, the flowers smashed on their sides like dead swans with broken necks. All the mystery and magic never having appeared. The stand of delicate peach roses thrown to the ground like a stricken ballerina, her skirt in shreds, her flesh and bones scattered in the garden and left for a shocked and disappointed, angry gardener. Looking around how sad it felt that this was my reward for such hard work, for all my prayers and supplications, for trying to be good and sitting patiently on the basement stairs, waiting for destruction or salvation, waiting to be dead or alive, but waiting.
Walking through my shattered garden I saw that the earth was damp but the grass still pale, the flowers wet and limp like newly caught fish lying at the bottom of a canoe, a garden of toads and frogs and fish I have now, swimming to nowhere. And yet… yet… the garden was intact, the trees not fallen, the shrubs not uprooted and the grass slowly turning to emerald. The air fresh and soaked with dew, sweet earth dews of April, May and June. Three months of waiting and waiting the garden was, like I, waiting at the top of the basement stairs for the deluge to end. And I too was intact, still flesh and bone and skin, with eyes in my head, hands at my sides. I walked towards the shards of broken pots and urns, the masses of fallen tangled roots and flowers, and slowly started to gather them up and put them back in the earth again.