My Father’s Garden ~ Richard Spilman



On the outskirts, in a waste of clay and rock

unearthed when the Interstate went through,

he made his garden—leveled and cleared

the gutted soil. Then in early spring

he brought sacks of sphagnum and guano,

water in gallon jugs, since the spring rains

were never enough, and small bags of seed

with odd names: Early Girl and Black Magic;

Big Max, Straight Eight and Kentucky Wonder.

Testing, holding fast to that which was good.

Summers he worked in the blistering heat

of Sunday afternoons, digging and pulling,

feeding and watering, a hoe for a crosier,

and dirt his sacrament, baptizing the young,

binding them to twigs to help them along,

scion to beans and tomatoes and corn,

Holy Father to congregations of fat squash.


Neighbors he never spoke to discovered

on their doorsteps sacks of vegetables,

which of course they were forced to share

with their friends, there was so much.

On the Sunday he died, he set down the hoe,

knelt in a bean row, then fell arms wide

like Absalom before the king. A trucker

found him, skin still hot, but breathless.

When the ambulance came to take him,

tendrils of beans clung to his legs, the corn

lined up in rows, slippery squash laid traps

so that twice the men fell with their load.

And all that night there was whispering

in the fields of ripe corn and soybeans,

among the sculptured trees and neat grass

of suburban lawns, then rain hymned

against our windows, welcoming him home.