Leaving the Garden

Written by  Jennifer Tonge

-Previously published in Western Humanities Review

Over half a century sold abruptly—
house and lot, archaic expanse of field. You
hurried through formalities, calculating
figures on ledgers

kept by rote in proper Depression­era
style, then called as soon as the sale was final,
said, "I've sold the house," and began to tell me
all of your flowers,

tricked by spring­like weather, were blooming early.
"April's spring," I wanted to say, but didn't.
Now you want a home for your garden. Lilacs,
irises, poppies,

most important, peonies—floral rosters
spill their dense vernaculars. All of us will
have to take our favorites home to help you
settle your conscience,

now the step is taken, and excavation
won't be easy: everything's grown together,
roots are twined in intricate knots and we'll be
hesitant cutters,

now we cut for keeps, as if tendons, backbones
snapped beneath our spades. Memory's thick in gardens,
mulched among the pansies and bleeding­hearts, it's
clinging in velvet

globes on peach trees—these, which have grown for nearly
twenty­seven seasons from pits I planted
at three; we can their fruit in the fall and eat it
gradually, tiding

ourselves over. Where will you get your peaches,
once you've left here? From your children's gardens,
whence the flowers, shrubs, and other treasures,
refugees, will come.

That's your thinking. Mine is that patience isn't
chief among your virtues, and time's against you.
Eighty­four—you'll never replace your current
holdings. I want to

warn you, wail Cassandra­like: Listen, listen,
I imagine saying, you'll never have again
what you have here. You'll never have anything
Only imagine;

what's the point of warning you now? Instead we'll
dig and divvy up per your wishes, saying
where we'll plant each one: in the western corner,
under the window;

back along the fence, in a row. In our yards
first and then in yours, they are foster children,
soon to be returned. At the edge of things, this
lie. The shadows

lengthen, shorten, carrying hours and weekends,
months; they form an abacus counting time out.
Gone the peaches' papery blossoms, barely
scented, the snowball

bush's snowballs, riotous as children laughing.
Doubly gone the forsythia's brief perfume, its
yellow blossoms shaken. The rush of lilacs
finally open,

late this cold spring, burdens the air with more than
customary longing. Their lacy clumps have
scented fifty­nine of your springs here, faithful
criers of winter's

passage; what replacements await in that
bare new subdivision to which you're going?
Standards: bulbs that render the crocus, tulips,
daffodils any

grocery­shopper knows, and the bland petunia,
bulbless. You'll have marigolds, mums, and other
disappointments—hyacinths listing sadly,
half of their blossoms

missing. Once you said their odor always
made you think of funerals. Say goodbye to
this abundance, momently now receding.
Gathering under

summer's startling sky, we'll survey what's lost to
us already, bracing against the bigger
loss to come. It's best not to think, just focus
tightly on tasks at

hand. We're trying. Reach for the shovel, get gloves
on. Break out the spades—as if spades were ever
used; you changed your mind and decided nothing
merited keeping.

Additional Info

  • Location: West Valley City, UT