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Gardening Secrets of the Dead

When the light pivots, hum — not so loud 
the basil will know, but enough 
to water it with your breath.  
Gardening has nothing to do with names
like lily or daisy.  It is about verbs like uproot, 
traverse, hush.  We can say it has aspects of memory 
and prayer, but mostly it is about refraction and absence, 
the dead long gone when the plant goes in.  A part of the body.  
Water and movement, attention and dirt.

      Once, I swam off the coast of Belize and pulled 
seven local kids along in the shallow Caribbean, 
their brown bodies in the blue water behind me, 
the first one holding my left hand like a root, 
the last one dangling his arm under the water 
like a lavender twig or a flag in light wind.
A dead woman told me:  Gardening,
simply, is laughing and swimming
a chorus of little brown miracles 
in water so clear you can see yourself 
and your own brown hands becoming clean.

(from Gardening Secrets of the Dead by Lee Herrick. Copyright 2012 WordTech Editions, Cincinnati, Ohio.)


Lee Herrick is the author of Gardening Secrets of the Dead and This Many Miles from Desire. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies, including The Bloomsbury Review, ZYZZYVA, From the Fishouse, The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems from the San Francisco Bay Watershed, Seeds from a Silent Tree: Writing by Korean Adoptees, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd edition, and One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form, among others. He lives in Fresno, California and teaches at Fresno City College and in the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.

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