BY MIA ANDERSON
Sit any longer staring out the window like this you’ll probably catch them at it.
Budging up from the ground of their own half-moon bed (that fast!)
not even waiting to shuck off the last shawl of snow before
nudging those rose-pink nubbins unspeakably private publicly up through
the soil and snow and the stalks of last year’s patch, a kind of comic-
strip tease resurrection to illustrate the day. Or growth made
visible in camera out in the hidden wide. A 19th century don in his black drape
squinting camera-eyed at the common young could not be more voyeur.
There is something scandalous about pink. Yet you sit and spy
on these striplings turning to strapping ados, to pushy nextbed neighbours. Extra
year extra shove, colony on the climb, persistent, faithful to the point of
invasive. Never mind. Keep them. Move the extras to another
patch of garden bed; you’ll be wanting all of it when you make rosée. I didn’t
mention la rosée de rhubarbe? Ah. Best-kept secret. For another day.
If it’s rhubarb resurgence this must be maple syrup season. Yes:
Michel has already dropped off your delirious boxes of first run, whose trees you
can almost see from here; you know the taste of that first sap rising from
Ontario side-roads and the old-order spigots the Mennonites
sold you though the new way’s tube and vacuum festoon Michel’s boisé. Never mind.
We’re using up the planet but we’ll go out loving it. Or we’ll learn from it
before it’s too late: one or the other. We’ll eat till we die.
I’m not suggesting starvation. Once I saw a bug chawing on a leaf while all the
while another bigger bug chawed on his body from behind.
I hope I haven’t spoiled your lunch.
Rhubarb is of course bitter but with maple syrup it is ambrosia. Now pink
springs eternal you can gorge on your freezers’ supplies of rose-tinted
mini-dice you laid up last year. You’ll barely finish that feast
before you’re dicing up this year’s garden. Feasts to die for. But don’t.
Live a bit longer, sitting by the fire, staring out the window at the last
snow, watching the rhubarb surge, waiting till it’s time,
taking Patience Gray for your model: patience: Honey from a Weed
on your lap never gone out of print since she wrote it three decades ago.
Living that close to the source.
A commitment to one place. Deep as trees.
Its virtue, you wear on your sleeve as if you too had learned stability.
And though some fly in from Mexico (only yesterday! in the IGA) those are not
feathers tucked against their sides, nor gills
(though they are plungers, diving upwards, flying-trim);
those are fountains. You can’t see them now. There’s the whole spring game of
cat and mouse to play through yet. Waiting
is a kind of plenitude of energy, deep as trees. Watching for the
first ripple of soil when the first team player emerges from the brown tent
dressed in his team greens, that ochry verdure,
that bit of amethyst on the lapels. Aeons before that, the team
has had to fly its time capsules north from the ancient jungle, find the wetlands
occupied by the other team, the fiddleheads,
take over the dry the sandy the deep for itself. So long ago.
A bit like the horsetail weed that loves the old train tracks, the oil spills, the abuse
the name calling—weed! weed!—our old
xenophobic failure to find kinship so easy among peas, carrots,
even leeks are not so strange. When the game is under way you are out there with
your knife, your scissors, slaughtering the innocents
at break of day but they are Gandhi’s gang, they keep coming
rippling forward as you mow them down sending more and more, peaceable and
peaceably more to the fore and it is over in a few days.
In the kitchen, if you ever wanted to know what green tasted like,
it tastes like this: the boiled water turning the modest hood and dagger cloak of
sort-of green into the greenest green you’ve ever seen.
That. Taste that. That’s green: those spears lying placid on your plate,
disarmed. It was for this, the waiting. Worth it. But yet: there’s more. In a few days
when it’s all over begins the second act.
And while your back is turned, planting spuds, weeding already
the onions, seeing to the legumes and their trellises, all Versailles breaks out.
Tafelmusik of fountains, Lorca mist of green—
why not bow your head? let that musical consort asperge you note by note
full on your former fontanelle? its spring blessing, its sprinkle of consecrated rain.
And always remembering how when the water boils,
things give in to their opposite: dun earth done to a buttery asperg-green,
lobster green-weaponed and living to a boiled edible and tasty buttery lobster-red.
What do you know I don’t? Two years ago you sprouted on St Brigid’s Day
down there in the root cellar and I thought ah! proudly Celtic. This year
you were popping your eyes into stalks on January 1st
as if you were a host of stalk-eye flies, a bit excessive, don’t you think? But
what do I know? What do you know I don’t? That this year will be so
late and slow you’d better get going early? So far you’re right.
But the ground’s unfrozen now and I suppose we might think of spading
some of you in. Your call-name Spud they say comes from
the honourable spade. So I beg to call a spud a spud.
I’m sorry to rip your eyes out; it’s our fault, really, for calling them eyes
just because that fermata marked on your skin (over and over, too,
but yet it got you to hold your note no longer than January)
looks like a child’s drawing of an eye. Really, you’re blind. I know that.
Blind. These shoots are just you feeling your way to the light.
I shouldn’t say ‘just’. To feel one’s way to the light
is what it’s all about—for me too, friend. You are a friend. I’ve loved you
from my childhood. You are our familiar, our inestimable staple.
Rice cannot rival, nor pasta prance
beside you, though we give them their place at the table, to be sure. But we
are from the Americas, yes? and we have our loyalties, I and you,
my potato right or wrong. And sometimes you are wrong;
sometimes you produce solanine in quantities enough to kill me.
That’s not nice. Why would you want to kill your friend?
Well, yes, true, I eat you, yes that’s true
I devour you flesh and skin; and before that I rip your eyes out or it may be
those white things are styes, what do I know, I make it so you can
go to ground naked as the day is long.
Meanwhile down in the sous-sol you look like someone having a bad
hair day. A hundred people having a hundred bad hair days.
So I shall shave your head, your heads, your bodies,
I’ll be Delilah to your Samson and shear you of your locks but it won’t
deter you, thank God for that. You’ll pack your strength
into the next seered sucker and when I’m ready
I’ll give you a few days in this foreign and peculiar open air before
down you plunge for the dark again. Your love-hate relationship.
Get there you try to get out with your sprouts.
Get out you try to get back or else threaten to deploy your
biological weapon, solanine. You may say
it’s to ward off pests, fungi,
that function against you in the light, things that would deter your growth.
What about mine? This poison deters my life, mate. Do you
know something I don’t? Maybe you know that
every cell of my own body engages in the very same kind of benign
chemical warfare, this ‘programmed cell death’: this apoptosis.
Your pests, my petals cell by cell, fall off like
the finger spaces of the foetus I once was fell away to make my fingers.
Those are pearls of wisdom that were your eyes. Now I know
what perhaps you don’t? You are the blind seer.
You speak truth to power, my companion, my tablemate, my
common or garden Tiresias. I must learn to treasure
your poison like a chastisement,
a kind of healing. I promise not to thwart it but to leave it to the ground
to deal with. We’ll meet again later, Ole Taters, when your leaves
and flowers emerge and the Colorado beetles think they’ve
got it made. Do you know what I know to do then? for your sake?
and mine? Wait and see, thou eyeless in garden. Wait and see, old seer.
Or perhaps you know?