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on bulbs and hope


There is a poem—a simple, dark but uplifting, lovely poem—that is perfect to read during bulb-planting season. It’s called “The Wild Iris” by Louise Gluck and it’s been my favorite for many, many years. (Find haunting audio here, full text here.)


At the end of my suffering / there was a door, the poem begins. Hear me out: that which you call death / I remember.


The half-planted bulb beds stared me down on Saturday as I finished hand-prepping another 50-foot row—this time for allium and lilies. My process is long but feels gentle and healing compared to ripping apart the earth with a tiller. I fork the bed in 2-foot sections, then sit on my knees as I tear out the biggest grass and weed clumps, rubbing them against each other to remove the excess dirt. After this part is finished, I start over again, forking and digging the bed down to a depth of about 12 inches to loosen the soil and remove the biggest rocks.


I truly get to know my soil this way, and all the wonderful worms and spiders that live within it. By the end of the bed though, I’m typically questioning my no-till commitment. What takes me eight solid hours could have been finished in 45 minutes. I forget about it overnight each time, though, like the pain of labor.


It is terrible to survive / as consciousness / buried in the dark earth, says the iris in the poem. That must be how the tiny bulbs are feeling, I thought, buried under six inches of dirt and compost and mulch. Tucked away and waiting. Consciousness / buried in the dark earth.


There’s nearly always a podcast playing while I dig and plant, keeping me company in the hours it takes to do all this work alone. Lately, it’s been any CBC true crime podcast. Saturday was no different, season five of “Someone Knows Something” playing, when my phone alerted me to a text message. My hands were covered with mud, but I had to look—I’d woken up to Joe Biden’s increasing lead in PA and my heart was a butterfly ever since.


There it was: the news I’d been waiting for, hoping for, wishing for, praying for, but was too afraid to speak aloud for fear of a jinx. Biden Wins. A screenshot of the CNN homepage delivered to a group text by one of my favorite people in the world. My eyes welled with tears as I began happily texting it to all my West Coast friends and called my parents to tell them the good news.


As Gluck wrote in”The Wild Iris”: Then it was over. Then it was over. Being a good progressive liberal, I’m under no illusion that a decidedly moderate president like Biden will deliver the world I dream of—an America in which full, beautiful lives aren’t lost at the hands of murderous cops, expensive healthcare, inadequate support, environmental racism, and white supremacist terrorism. A world where universal healthcare, basic income, non-racist policing (or minimal policing), and environmentalism are obvious instead of being seen as radical concepts. A world where we care for each other and the Earth we all live on.


Still, it’s easier to breathe since Saturday. The tightness in my chest has relaxed a little.


You who do not remember

passage from the other world

I tell you I could speak again: whatever

returns from oblivion returns

to find a voice


Our voices were heard, despite the racist electoral college. Whatever / returns from oblivion returns / to find a voice.


I expect my 150 iris bulbs to arrive next week. I’ll need to prep another bed before they get here. And it’s okay. Spring will be sweet and lovely. A great fountain, deep blue / shadows on azure seawater.


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