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PATHS

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We had two gardens.

A real flower garden
overhanging the road
(our miniature Babylon).
Paths which I helped
to lay with Aunt Winifred,
riprapped with pebbles;
shards of painted delph;
an old potato boiler;
a blackened metal pot,
now bright with petals.

Hedges of laurel, palm.
A hovering scent of boxwood.
Crouched in the flowering
lilac, I could oversee
the main road, old Lynch
march to the wellspring
with his bucket, whistling,
his carrotty sons herding
in and out their milch cows:
a growing whine of cars.

Then, the vegetable garden
behind, rows of broad beans
plumping their cushions,
the furled freshness of
tight little lettuce heads,
slim green pea pods above
early flowering potatoes,
gross clumps of carrots,
parsnips, a frailty of parsley,
a cool fragrance of mint.

Sealed off by sweetpea
clambering up its wired fence,
the tarred goats' shack
which stank in summer,
in its fallow, stone-heaped corner.

With, on the grassy margin,
a well-wired chicken run,
cheeping balls of fluff
brought one by one into the sun
from their metallic mother
—the oil-fed incubator—
always in danger from
the marauding cat, or
the stealthy, hungry vixen:
I, their small guardian.

Two gardens, the front
for beauty, the back
for use. Sleepless now,
I wander through both
and it is summer again,
the long summers of youth
as I trace small paths
in a trance of growth:
flowers pluck at my coat
as I bend down to help,
or speak to my aunt,
whose calloused hands
caressing the plants
are tender as a girl's.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the September 1998 issue of Poetry magazine

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PATHS

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