The Gardener

Winner of the 2023 DISQUIET Prize for Poetry


I’ve been negotiating my fears with speaking.
After a life of being half-heard;
after half a life of being unheard, I now think of the chaos

I avoided in this abstinence. In some stories Jesus
is not the fool, keeping himself
to himself, knowing only God knows

and his mother who could care less of the myths of men
and masculine creatures.
When my father didn’t respond

in roll call to his name being mispronounced, he felt the wrath
of his teacher’s paddle.
I never feel as uninvited as when I am called to.

Like how each year, the masculine
myth in me spills a little.
At some point, the earth only takes water without giving.

If sin equals living, then I am an eternal forgiver
who listens like a driver with memory stored
in the hands. A poet is a kind of driver.

Or a poet is a failed gardener
accidentally touching the top of skulls.
In the 5 years that Maya Angelou didn’t speak, the many books

in her crowed like an eclipse.
The blue sticker on back of the Honda Odyssey says God listens.
But I could never love a creature who hasn’t felt shame.

When I choose not to speak, don’t be afraid or turn your head.
Just know it wasn’t speech I feared, but performance.
And not silence I yearned for, but precision.

My French-named father, my many-faced mother,
Peter’s 3rd lied — I have never said the word love
and have not meant or understood it.

On some level, all mothers know forgiveness.
My mother tells the poet to remove their shoes
when they enter the house, so death isn’t trailed in.

In the talk we do
is the gate between hearing and listening.
Such precision in the way I tell my voice to cede.


Joshua Burton is a poet from Houston, Texas. He is a 2019 CAAPP fellowship finalist and a 2023 Elizabeth George Foundation grant recipient. His chapbook Fracture Anthology is currently out with Ethel, and his debut poetry collection, Grace Engine, is out with the University of Wisconsin Press.

[Purchase Issue 26 here.]

The Gardener

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