...so he drove out the man and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden, Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life.
-- Genesis: 3
We'd never had a yard like that one: at least an acre stretched out south behind the old clapboard house,
out past the rattles and reports of the pushed-in screen door and the whimpers of the buckling, weather-smoothed plank steps
leading down and out across the usual swath of perennially browning dichondra lawn
with its mocking simulacrum of garden at either intrusive margin—
a few preening rose plants embarrassed amidst an unruly muster of raggedy marigolds and haggard calendulas—
and then...the unexpected old ornamental iron gate: rusted fast closed.
There, past the gate, flourished a miraculous overgrown tangle of orchard and calamitous hedge,
scrappy underbrush and roiling thicket—belying the fact of path, begging the act of trespass-—
with tripping booby traps of thorny runners strung beneath the wading surges of rippling, chest-high, summer wild grass,
burrs and stickers waiting within like tropical leeches to attach unawares to ankles and backs.
That was the glorious rear acre we called the 'backyard'—embracing all of its promise and challenge,
heedless of the second immutable law and the consequences of its disregard, as in love...
that which we held in tenuous dominion as far back as the precarious, rock-strewn gully, where it seems all our dreams ended,
where the past collected and disembarked with the run-off from the deluges of that late spring.
With autumn, the heavy green fruit, grown full and rounded like the curve at the top of her hips and pinched to blushes
of ochre and crimson by the equinoctial sun's failing heat, begins to fall from the unreachable branches at the trees ' spindly tops
where it hangs on hooks like the paratrooper who, safe in his flying heaven, awaits the fatal drop into what moil,
who savors, in a last bite of secreted fruit, the memory of farm and family and forsaken country
with yearning, like lost love, he swallows hard, as the objective is gained, the orders are called down: he can't turn back...
The pears and apples lie moldering together in the leaf-singed, yellow grass, smelling sweetly in the cool mid-morning air of new shampoo in damp hair.
Some, cleaved by the shock, show a deep incision, bruised maroon as hurt on the lips of her dazed mouth,
so unlike the perfect plastic fruit in the cut glass bowl that sat unspoiled, season after season,
on grandmother's mantle in that unmeasured time before the pendulum in the glass-covered clock spun... or the clock itself was forgotten.
The seeds, waiting in the gravid wombs to be fermented to life, feed on the dying flesh—though none will find purchase here;
rivulets of ants run to this squander through the turgid flyblow, and the mourning dove cries its good fortune as it pecks.
A branch of the cherry tree has been bent and shivered at the trunk from awkward climbing or malevolence,
dangling like the once resolute arm of a man paralyzed by a wound to the shoulder—exposing its stringy red meat.
In early spring, two bright new shoots should sprout here like slowly hardening nipples on full ardent breasts
(which if I were to roll them between my fingers would grow even more so—but I do not; they do not).
This year, because of the hard, tedious winter, there will be no such restitution,
no new balance struck in the crooked symmetry of that crashing line of flushing blossoms.
A tawny brown sparrow, with the soft bones of its wing broken back like bereft fingers on a refused hand,
has fallen into the blackberry bush in tragic parody of that parachutist who died after becoming entangled in electrical lines last September.
Not far away, we found the nest, woven with grass and weed stems, and the blue-speckled eggs she had tended, big as eyes,
grown cold and vain—except as food for the carping jay or spilt down to the entreating snake.
From the kitchen, looking out the moirê glass toward the drab, opaque light of solstice, far the other side of the frozen gate,
in a mood much like reminiscence, I daydreamed living under a higher sun, in a warm pristine land
unintruded by struggle or sorrow, where dissolution would forestall and the dire unread augury abjure.
It seemed, because of time or will not given us, that the promise of the backyard went ever unfulfilled,
in futility, as with those who fight a guerrilla war on foreign soil, in deepening oblivion,
disappointment following upon every joy—as in that imperceptible moment at orgasm when pleasure abates
and an uncertain sense of loss, a bitter shadow, darkens desire, feeling like mortality or exile.
After the house burned, lying half-charred like a flowered corpse whose ochred spouse reaches to the pyre for the smoldering hand
and, with the weight of grief, pulls the amber blaze down upon herself...
After we became estranged, I, too, clung jealously to the blackened skeleton of love's promise...
and then, one day, I returned to find the remains plowed under, even the back waste stripped and barren
like a once pregnant, but still childless woman who is strapped in stirrups on a cold table under the chastening glare of a medical lamp,
or like a lush tropical forest after flames from the final rounds of napalm have cooled...
waiting for a new rain.
The embalmed memory of my grandmother stirred as the bright life in her sand-flecked blue eyes was finally dampered out
by the burgeoning growth, the collusive lie like a prolific fetus, which ate at her fair body until both starved;
a single, withered, yellow flower lay in the curve of her arm close beside the belly still caught in bandages where the knife went in.
In my dream, there is a river of mannequins, with their perfect waists and polished round breasts, floating
forever amid a spoiling harvest of papier-mâché fruit: the atrophic eidolons of our lost garden.
It ends the same way: a leap of faith leading to the bottom of the gushing ravine through crisp, forgiving air—redolent of fruit and smoke.
My favorite weeds have always been those—whether a jaggy dandelion or gawky milkweed—whose seeds scatter by aerial dispersion:
a summer gust will launch a sortie of tiny parachutes unfurling into the wind, which propels them over miles and years
across terrain un-negotiable by other means, erratically, like a man without bond to friend or family—or purpose,
sometimes finding refuge in the interstial wastes of roadsides and riverbeds—rarely, in the tidy beds of suburbia—
a casualty of vigilance in the countenance of the gardener who brooks no deviance within the margins of his moment of order.
Perhaps the seed I have harbored, through all the intervening years of buffeting and drifting has by now become sterile;
my despair become a stubborn thistle, fast rooted in the hard dry clay of my soul;
no matter that I yank off the pricking top a thousand times, whenever I attend, the remnant root still grows.
The sacred sand painting of a lifetime's making nears completion, it is hard to tell
whether by design or not it divides into what may be the permutations of seasons or the movements within music
wherein each climax is more desperate in its triumph, each denouement evermore tragic—
without finale, without salvation—whisked cleanly into oblivion by the sword which guards against all return...
irrecoverable as primordial jungle before an inundation of napalm ...or love before despair...
or dandelion seeds sailing away in a light breeze.
Kevin Cornwall © All rights reserved.