for my grandparents, who did not teach me
how to farm, and yet they scattered these seeds:
How a dunk into scalding water slips
the skin from a peach, leaves it unfuzzed, slick
for canning. How the trick to shucking corn
is one clean jerk. How jars of beet brine turn
eggs to amethysts that stain my fingers,
my lips. They left me to play in cellars
stocked with preserves and jam, in rows of trees
that released chestnut burrs for my bare feet
to find. What would they think of my pea shoots
left unlatticed, free to tendril one noose
after another around other plants,
my slapdash harvest, larder left to chance?
In the Garden of Invasive Species, I Offer Gratitude
In the final Friday Reads of 2020, we’re hearing again from our volunteer readers on what books have been keeping them engrossed and entertained as the weather gets colder. For this second batch, our readers highlight books set everywhere from an Anishinaabe reserve in Ontario to Sofia, Bulgaria and a city in 1950s Italy.
Read our first round of volunteer reader recommendations here.
Recommendations: Writers & Lovers by Lily King; Cleanness by Garth Greenwell; Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice; Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the City by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver.
Through radar, the Americans made contact with the moon, which of course is exciting. But the most important event of the week happened with my cornstalk.
In my backyard, in a pile of dirt the gardener gathered, something was born that might have been just plain grass—but that I discovered was a cornstalk. I transplanted it to the narrow flowerbed in front of the house. The small leaves were dried out; I thought it was dead. But it revived. When it was the size of a palm, I showed a friend and he declared disdainfully that it was actually grass. When it was the size of two palms, I showed another friend, and he confirmed that it was sugar cane.
GOD Almightie first Planted a Garden. And indeed, it is the Purest of Humane pleasures. It is the Greatest Refreshment to the Spirits of Man; Without which, Buildings and Pallaces are but Grosse Handy-works.
—Francis Bacon, from his 1625 essay, “Of Gardens”
I open the garden on the morning of November 4, after sixteen hours of poll work the day before, sure Trump will be re-elected. The lawn is scattered with red and yellow leaves. The late roses are wan and bedraggled as chiffon ballgowns after a hard night of dancing. Shocking purple aconitum are the finale—their hood-shaped blossoms (hence their popular name, monk’s hood) visible from fifty feet away. The twisted apricot tree is filled with warblers; this English garden in Brooklyn makes a classy pit stop on their way to Guatemala.
Şükrü Erbaş was born when, as his mother said, “the vineyards were boiling”—that is, when the pekmez (a traditional grape syrup) was being made. He grew up among those vineyards and wheat fields and apple orchards, deep in the Anatolian countryside, in the town of Yozgat, not far from the ruins of the ancient capital of the Hittites.
Erbaş’s reputation in Turkish poetry hasn’t strayed far from the geography he grew up in, neither from its idyllic beauty nor from its brutal poverty and neglect. But while Erbaş doesn’t shy away from the politics or economic struggles of the long-suffering Anatolian people, he’s not reducible to a mere political or a nature poet. His reviewers usually accord him something like the status of a poet of witness. Poet-critic Şeref Bilsel calls Erbaş a socialist poet without slogans, one who doesn’t say “I need to speak” but rather “I have heard.”
The word ‘heart’ means nothing to the heart. –Dionne Brand
Ricardo Alberto Maldonado calls his poems incantatory: they are meant to be sung or recited, to gather sense through their sounds. I felt this reading The Life Assignment: the enormous power of words–flat on the page and threatening permanent inertness–rising up animated and alive when given mouth and breath and ear, like fallen leaves swirled up by the wind. The collection opens with “I Give You My Heart / Os doy mi corazón,” written the week of September 20, 2017, after Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 superstorm that devastated the island and killed thousands in the Caribbean, made landfall in Puerto Rico. Maldonado’s speaker – perhaps living at a distance from the island, in New York City, at the time, like the poet himself – intones:
I open the doors and windows and shut off the lights.
For a while I play tunes on the fiddle
shirtless in my dark house. I love doing this.
For the first time all day I am not at home.
For the first time since the last time
my body is the same size as my flesh.
The only home I have is finally mine
and there is a breeze.
In this special, mid-month edition of Friday Reads, Issue 20 contributor LaToya Faulk shares her recent recommendations and reflects on motherhood in the pandemic, entering discussions on race and queerness with her daughter, and the life-altering power of babies. Take a read and make sure to grab your copy of Issue 20 here.
Recommendations: Little Labors by Rivka Galchen; The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert; Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway; Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journey into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille T. Dungy
Since March, I’ve been home with my precious and verbose seven-year-old girl. It’s mostly me and her, so mothering feels more immediate. Such immediacy has a way of repositioning the self-as-reader, and I’ve found refuge in the declarative work of writers who incite new ways of understanding how to parent in the blissfulness of childrearing and the failures of it too, especially under the precarious times of a pandemic. With this, books like Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, Brandy Colbert The Only Black Girls in Town, Natasha Tretheway’s Memorial Drive, and Camille T. Dungy’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journey into Race, Motherhood, and History bring me closer to understanding the many ways we imprint ourselves upon our children, and how they equally imprint themselves upon us.