Sara Backer: “A Stranger Asks”
A STRANGER ASKS
about the flowers at the base of a flagpole, and I discover I understand delphiniums, how they need cool summer nights and long-lit days to thrive; that I can distinguish salvia from lavender whose silvery leaves exude the same scent in Vermont as California, France or Bulgaria; that I know Lady’s Mantle holds rain drops whole; violets and pansies are edible and the more you eat, the more they bloom; opiates have been bred out of today’s poppies but morning glory seeds still carry LSD (beware—they make you vomit); wisteria can twine around and pull apart a house and kudzu kills everything it touches; that the easiest flower is the daffodil—as long as your winter is cold, you’re good for years of blatant cheer to thwart the gloomiest brooders after a siege of icicles (remember Dr. Zhivago?); that purple bugleweed can replace a lawn and foster bees; iris, prone to rhizome rot and borers, like dry soil; daylilies, if you divide them every leap year, will never let you down; that your best garden may come from plants that plant themselves—volunteers!—columbine, buttercups, bachelor buttons, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, spurge— for a weed is only named as such if you don’t like it—and vegetables, too; not just the brazen orange of squash but nubbly white knots of peas and beans, tiny yellow stars of tomatoes, white stars of potatoes—a double sustenance; that peony corms must be planted shoot-side up (tough to determine which side that is) because they won’t turn themselves around like other bulbs, but if you get it right and never fertilize with manure, they’ll outlive you with fragrant grace each June; and that I learned everything I know about gardens from a mother who loved hers first and best, always upset by my uselessness.
Sara Backer has two poetry chapbooks: Bicycle Lotus, which won the 2015 Turtle Island Poetry Award, and Scavenger Hunt from Dancing Girl Press. She has received fellowships from the Djerassi Resident Artist Program and Norton Island Artist Residency.