On Gardens

By Rick Barot b. 1969 Rick Barot
When I read about the garden
designed to bloom only white flowers,
I think about the Spanish friar who saw one
of my grandmothers, two hundred years
removed, and fucked her. If you look
at the word colony far enough, you see it
traveling back to the Latin
of  inhabit, till, and cultivate. Words

that would have meant something
to the friar, walking among the village girls
as though in a field of flowers, knowing
that fucking was one way of   having
a foreign policy. As I write this, there’s snow
falling, which means that every
angry thought is as short-lived as a match.
The night is its own white garden:

snow on the fence, snow on the tree
stump, snow on the azalea bushes,
their leaves hanging down like green
bats from the branches. I know it’s not fair
to see qualities of injustice in the aesthetics
of a garden, but somewhere between
what the eye sees and what the mind thinks
is the world, landscapes mangled

into sentences, one color read into rage.
When the neighbors complained
the roots of our cypress were buckling
their lot, my landlord cut the tree down.
I didn’t know a living thing three stories high
could be so silent, until it was gone.
Suddenly that sky. Suddenly all the light
in the windows, as though every sheet

of glass was having a migraine.
When I think about that grandmother
whose name I don’t even know, I think of
what it would mean to make a garden
that blooms black: peonies and gladiolas
of deepest purple, tulips like ravens.
Or a garden that doesn’t bloom at all: rocks
poised on clean gravel. When the snow stops,

I walk to see the quiet that has colonized
everything. The main street is asleep, except
for the bus that goes by, bright as a cruise ship.
There are sheet cakes of  snow on top
of cars. In front of   houses, each lawn
is as clean as paper, except where the first cat
or raccoon has walked across, each track
like a barbed-wire sash on a white gown.

Source: Poetry (May 2013).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2013
 Rick  Barot


Rick Barot was born in the Philippines and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Wesleyan University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Stanford University, where he was a Stegner Fellow in Poetry and later a Jones Lecturer in Poetry.
Barot’s first collection of poetry, The Darker Fall (2002), received the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. His second collection, Want (2008), was a finalist for the Lambda Literary . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Gardening, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Class, Gender & Sexuality, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.