It is a hot and humid Sunday, with air temperatures in the evening over 80°F, but what gets you is the dew point, currently at 73°F. You can break a sweat by lifting your pinkie. Fortunately it is the Lord’s Day, a day of rest, when weeding is forbidden. Rather than my sitting-about being proof I own the sin of sloth, it is proof I am spiritual. Will wonders never cease?
Of course, there is a question about writing. Is that not work? Am I not working on the Lord’s Day?
Fortunately I’ve never made money writing. In truth it has gotten in the way of my becoming fabulously wealthy, and lighting my cigars with hundred dollar bills. Therefore my writing cannot be called work. In fact, even when I bash my head against writer’s block, or write experiencing such anguish that my pores all become polka-dots of red, it is not work, or so I’ve been told.
It being Sunday, confession is good for the soul, and therefore I confess to you there have been times I’ve wanted to punch people in the nose, when they say, “Writing is not work.”
Be that as it may, the truth is that, when your writing makes no money, it does tend to become a form of star gazing. Rather than getting to work, you are avoiding the weeding. Because I didn’t mind being a staving artist, but did not wish to become a starved artist, I did concede to weeding a little bit, rather than only writing poetry. (Unlike many poets, I’m remarkably pragmatic at times.) In fact I became so pragmatic I actually, to my own astonishment, got rather good at weeding.
You may think I’m making this up, and no poet could possibly ever get so good at weeding, but I got so good at weeding I was able to raise five children by weeding.
I was able to do this because it turns out rich people do like the idea of gardens, but don’t like the reality, which involves sweat and grunt-work and worst of all, weeding. They will pay good money to poets if poets will do a bit of weeding for them, however one of the first things I learned is that the poet must never admit he is a poet. Rich people did not become rich by being foolish with their money, and if you say you are a poet they immediately step backwards with a hand protectively over their wallet, for they are wise to the ways of the world, and know that “poet” is just a word for “a crafty beggar.”
Therefore I would tell them I was a “landscaper.”
You’d be surprised how many landscapers majored in English in college, and once dreamed of being poets. An English degree is in many ways useless, in terms of making money, unless you are willing to be unscrupulous.
The unscrupulous English majors sell their souls, and become speech-writers for lying politicians, or work writing lying advertisements for Madison Avenue, or write what they are told to regurgitate for newspapers and call themselves “journalists” when they are merely parrots in an echo-chamber. I feel sad for those fellows, though they do enjoy a certain time of wealth. One of the rules of poetry is that, if you want the founts to gush, you need to be honest and stand by truth, but if you sell your soul and become unscrupulous the well gets plugged up and the poetry dries up and you look in the mirror and know you are a has-been, a poet who could have been champion but who sold his birthright for a mass of pottage.
Therefore the really good poets wind up as landscapers, but then face a second temptation. It turns out that the wives of rich men have realized how empty wealth is, and see the fellow in the garden holds more poetry than a millionaire, and try to purchase it, which results in poets falling and becoming mere gigolos in a garden.
Fortunately I was not tested in this respect, partly because my wife was young and extremely beautiful, and partly because my customers were older ladies who attended church regularly. Even so, my wife did refer to my customers as “my harem”.
In any case, I cannot hate either weeds or weeding, considering weeds fed my family figuratively, and at times literally.
Some weeds are delicious. Purslane tastes like beet greens, but is less stringy, more succulent, and tastes better if you get it at the right time. Stinging nettles are excellent spinach with surprising side effects, (in terms of stamina, not crazed brains), if you pick it (with gloves) when it first shoots up in the spring, because the sting vanishes when you boil it. All sorts of other weeds are edible, but have somewhat dubious flavors and can lead to astounding flatulence, if eaten straight. But who eats mustard greens straight? You have to know how to mix your weeds. The most superb spinach is lamb’s quarters, in my opinion, and it turns out lamb’s quarters was a staple in the vanished Mound Builder cultures, (due more to the quality of its seeds than the delicious leaves).
And I could go on, but you likely would think I was just inventing the excuses poets are prone to, when it comes to avoiding getting down on your knees in the dirt, and pulling the darn weeds up.
When I was younger, my customer’s gardens were weed-free, but when I got home I was tired, and my own garden tended to be a bit weedy. And now that I am older, and have managed to create a situation where my garden is actually part of my Farm-childcare business, my garden is still weedy, because the dratted thing is too large. In fact I have conceded half the garden to the weeds, because I am so old and pathetic I couldn’t even plant that side, this year. Fortunately my long study of English gets me off the hook, and when people wonder why that side is “weedy” I tell them it is “fallow”.
That still leaves me with half a garden to weed, and I’ve been fighting the good fight this past week. Much to my joy, my middle son found time in his busy schedule to join me on two days. He has a completely different strategy. Where I slowly plod down a row, leaving it utterly weed-free, he zooms down a row, only weeding by each plant, and leaving all other weeds in place. However you now can see there are rows, and beans don’t hold up top leaves like drowning swimmers midst thriving green.
As I worked I could not help but think to myself what a long love-hate relationship I have had with weeds. In 1973 I wrote not one, but two very long poems about a young poet complaining about weeds getting in the way of poetry, and a wise old farmer giving the young complainer sage advise.
How ironic it is that now I myself am the sage old farmer, and still I am wishing I could write poetry, as I weed. Usually poetry and weeding mix like oil and water, but last week I composed as I weeded, and then rushed to my pick-up truck and scrawled a rough draft of this:
When you sit back to think, the weeds keep growing.
They don’t take breaks, so you’d best keep going.
When mosquitoes swarm weeds won’t be slowing
So think all you want, but keep on hoeing.
Weeds don’t take breaks. They don’t say, “Poor me!
I have a deep thought! To dwell upon it
I need you to pull all my weeds for me
So I can sit back and finish this sonnet.”
The weeds keep growing in my soul as well.
If I sit back to think, my sloth will swell.
Poetic intentions pave roads to hell
So I must weed on, and I know it well
But pause. I pen this poem. I can’t resist.
My Love dubs me, “Hopeless Optimist.”
(In case you don’t get it, optimism is based on hope, and therefore to be a “hopeless optimist” is an oxymoron.) (However the point is that I wrote that sonnet, to some degree, while weeding, and therefore weeding does not necessarily oppose sonnets.)
And so a hot and humid Day of Rest draws to a close. All the static on the AM band of the radio is fading, the heat lightning to our west has died down, and it looks like we might again escape the thunderous wrath of muggy aIr being replaced by dry air. Tomorrow should be cooler and drier, and a good day to weed.