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.”