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    Ideas | Richard Blanco

    Election Year, by Richard Blanco


    The last ghostly patch of snow slips away —

    with it — winter’s peaceful abandon melts
    into a memory, and you remember the mire
    of muck just outside your kitchen window
    is the garden you’ve struggled and promised
    to keep. Jeans dyed black by years of dirt, 
    you step into the ache of your boots again,
    clear dead spoils, trowel the soil for new life. 

    The sun shifts on the horizon, lights up
    the dewed spider webs like chandeliers.
    Clouds begin sailing in, cargoed with rain 
    loud enough to rouse the flowers into
    a race for color: the rouged tulips clash 
    with the noble lilies flaunting their petals 
    at the brazen puffs of allium, the mauve 
    tongues of the iris gossip sweet-nothings 
    into the wind, trembling frail petunias. 


    Mornings over coffee, news of the world, 
    you catch the magic act of hummingbirds —
    appearing, disappearing — the eye tricked
    into seeing how the garden flowers thrive
    in shared soil, drink from the same rainfall,
    governed by one sun, yet grow divided
    in their beds where they’ve laid for years. 
    In the ruts between bands of color, ragweed
    poke their dastard heads, dandelions cough
    their poison seeds, and thistles like daggers
    draw their spiny leaves and take hold.

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    The garden loses ground, calls you to duty
    again: with worn gloves molded by the toll
    of your toil, and armed with sheers, you tear 
    into the weeds, snip head-bowed blooms, 
    prop their struggling stems. Butterfly wings
    wink at you, hinting it’s all a ruse, as you rest
    on your deck proud of your calloused palms
    and pained knees, trusting all you’ve done
    is true enough to keep the garden abloom.

    But overnight, a vine you’ve never battled
    creeps out of the dark furrows, scales
    the long necks of the sunflowers, chokes 
    every black-eyed Susan, and coils around
    the peonies, beheading them all. You snap
    apart its greedy tendrils, cast your hands 
    back into the dirt, pull at its ruthless roots. 
    Still, it returns with equal fury and claim:
    the red poppies scream, the blue asters 
    gasp for air, strangled in its vile clasp
    that lives by killing everything it touches.

    The sun’s eye closes behind mountains, but
    you lose sleep tonight, uncertain if the garden
    is meant to inevitably survive or die, or if 
    it matters — one way or the other — with or 
    without you. Maybe it’s not just the garden 
    you worry about, but something we call hope 
    pitted against despair, something we can only 
    speak of by speaking to ourselves about flowers, 
    weeds, and hummingbirds; spiders, vines, and
    a garden tended under a constitution of stars
    we must believe in, splayed across our sky.

    Richard Blanco was the 2013 presidential inaugural poet. This poem is from his forthcoming book of poems and photographs, “Boundaries.”