Garden ~ April, 2020
Tugging at weeds on my knees
the daylily bed, soil level,
about to aim my trowel
at a clump of pointed spears
cradle of gold and pink
when a toad, cameoed to the hilt
wearing a knobby tilth of dark ochre
leaped into sight. “Oh!” I exhaled,
then admiring words
flowed at the fellow
now still as a clay garden figure.
Grateful my trowel had missed him,
grateful for this life
at my feet.
Arlene Iris Distler is a writer and poet based in southern Vermont. After a decade of going “back to the land” in the town of Readsboro, she now lives and works in the relative metropolis of Brattleboro. In 2014, Finishing Line Press published her first collection, a chapbook titled “Voices Like Wind Chimes.” Her first full-length collection, “This Earth, This Body,” was a finalist in the Sundog Poetry Center’s book contest in 2020. She is co-founder of the nonprofit organization Write Action, a networking and advocacy organization for writers in the southern Vermont and tri-state region.
This poem sings of spring without mentioning spring; it brings us deeply and quickly into our senses, into the daylily bed and surround of flowers yet to be. We feel the sensation of trowel in hand, the pressure of knees against earth — we couldn’t get much closer. We’re steeped in a world we’re familiar with, that of the planted garden, but also in this other land of toad with his other worldly “knobby tilth.”
The poem starts in one place and ends up in another. We move from the domestic act of weeding and tending, to be brought more deeply into the nonhuman realm of animals, plants and soil. The poem illustrates how quickly that can happen and how much a shift in awareness can expand our experience away from ourselves to those of other living beings that we tend to not always pay attention to. I love the shift that happens in the speaker and the resulting change of focus, mindset and heart.
When I first heard this poem read during an online event I was part of, I interpreted the last line — Grateful my trowel had missed him/grateful for this life/at my feet — as someone awakening to gratitude for one’s own life. But when I was later able to read the poem in print, I realized this line might refer more to the frog’s life and not the speaker’s. And now when I read it yet again, I feel it even differently — as a larger statement of awakening and gratitude. “Grateful to the life at my feet.” Yes, the frog. Yes, my human body. All of life everywhere. A good way to begin this spring we have all been gifted with.
Susan Jefts is a poet and educator who lives in the Adirondacks and Ripton. She has recently completed her first full-length book of poetry, “Breathing Lessons,” and runs workshops using poetry as a way to explore life transitions and directions, and our relationships with nature.