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Soon after I arrived in Maine, I was given a small green bag of dahlia roots by then-state-poet-laureate Baron Wormser. Absorbed in all the work of settling in, I let the bag sit for months and months before I finally got them into the ground. No matter, he told me, just soak them for 24 hours. I did, and scrabbled holes in the soil and tucked the little withered scroti in, and harvested savagely sturdy and exuberant pink blossoms into October.
This spring I do it again with my own dahlia tubers, which I have now learned routinely to pull up and wrap in newspaper every winter, and which I am ready to split in half with a newer newcomer. One of my favorite parts of planting them every year is that without fail, one of those “sticky” phrases of poetry comes into my head: “with dahlia tubers dripping from their hands.” That’s all, that and a few other fragments from Millay’s sonnet, “I thought how oft Matinicus the tide,” “and children whimpered and the doors blew shut,” and the image of the “island women,” faces into the wind.
And this year, because I am blogging on Harriet, I think a little more about sticky phrases, and I think about “feeding a little life with dried tubers,” and I wonder if Eliot, too, was thinking of dahlias.
And then I think that I must have been somewhat hasty last fall, in the middle of all my travelling then, because I find two batches I overlooked when I took them all in for the winter. These two have been in the frozen ground six months, and instead of being dessicated and shrivelled, they are sodden and rotting, with no life in them.
So there is more life, sometimes, in the shrivelled than in the sodden, and this makes me think about poetry again, and how I haven’t finished a poem in a while, and I think about Eileen’s post on silence. And then I realize I’ve been procrastinating and go back to the final changes for A Poet’s Ear and tell myself that when that’s over, next week, I’ll bring stored scribbled poems out of their newspaper wrappings and give them a good watering and put them in the earth.
Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running through the Gut
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered, and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.