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Anna's Garden

                                    John Hoppenthaler


I.
Anna tends to her garden like some latter day
Rappacini, weeding, digging, pinching stray shoots
in a well-worn peasant’s frock. She colors the gray
wash of living alone with black flowers, their roots
snaking soil, down and down, aching for the deepest
river. A clipped hedgerow of Sambucus blooms pink
in late June, spiking summer air with lemon zest,
and it’s all she can do to stop herself from hack-
ing them off. Colocasia esculenta
reach six feet high, huge elephant ear leaves straining
for the merest sound of weeping; Black Baccara
roses offer up their velvet petals. Draping
the casket of dark tropicals, Ipomoea
batatas
does what vines do—cling, and strive to stay.

II.
It’s raining again.
Her flowers are black shadows
gaining on the night.

III.
Anna lives in the carriage house; the mansion she
keeps locked, electricity turned off years ago.
There’s wasted space in abundance, and the heavy
drapes are eye-lids shut against what light might winnow
through old growth bower. She would like to burn it down.
The charred remains would be a garden, too, blackened
beyond recognition; the ash—smoke-blown seed thrown
to the wind, just the sort of gift she’d wish to send
out beyond these acres. Haphazardness appeals
to her, in contrast to meticulous pruning
this world requires—unlike her dead husband’s zeal
for order, the careful figure he cut looming
over her days like an undertaker. Not death,
it wasn’t death. It couldn’t have been; it had breath.

IV.
Under the black heart,
she squabbles with a blackbird.
He pecks at the fruit.

V.
Afternoon breezes shift; a scent of chocolate
wafts through window screens; Cosmos atrosanguineus
imparts its thoughtless seduction. Inanimate
as she’s become—Jillstraw of her manor—such fuss
and feathers are beyond her now; the futile work
of its maroon flower heads almost makes her grin.
She’s no fool and perfectly aware of what lurks
behind her desire for this cultivation.
For years she worried about eccentricity,
but later understood greenhouse cuttings, tubers,
the bulbs stored down in the root cellar—she could see
what she was doing was giving birth. Or rather,
what she was doing was enabling a garden’s
growth in all directions and asking no pardon.

VI.
It’s raining again.
Black tulip petals detach.
Black soil breaks them down.


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