Author’s Note: I turned eighty recently, in a world that seems increasingly crazy and disjointed. For me now, making some sense of that world is less a matter of big ideas than of small actions. Like carpenters who nail together a home for the senile, or the homeless man for whom bus routes map the city, I write poems that try to make connections among disparate scraps of experience.
Editor’s Note: “Community Gardens” is one of three poems first published in the Delmarva Review included in John Palen’s new chapbook, “Riding with The Diaspora”. With graceful language, these well-crafted poems offer powerful, relatable moments experienced from the dispersion of people into America’s heartlands. They offer readers the feelings left behind as we view our expanding diversity.
At the Community Garden
The crew at the senility wing next door
is busy making connections,
nailing studs to plates, ceiling joists
to rafters. Today’s news was Trump, Covid,
a homeless man in a wheelchair
riding buses back and forth across LA.
I squat in my rain-soaked garden,
pulling bindweed out of the onions.
I used to think gardening would help
save the world. Such a peaceable thing,
you and I and the next person
and the next, like kids donating dimes
or cleaning their plates. Now I think
it has only helped me reach old age.
The rough, wet tongues of crabgrass
lick my muddy hands. When I stand up
the air darkens, daylight drains.
I spook the sparrows. As old
as I in sparrow years, they explode
out of the roofers’ scrap pile
with hard, quick wingbeats
and vanish into the leaves.
John Palen, a life-long Midwesterner, has worked as a store clerk, draftsman, newspaper reporter, editor, and journalism teacher. Over the last 50 years his poems have appeared in numerous literary publications and anthologies. He earned a PhD in American Studies from Michigan State University and was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities journalism fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. His chapbook “Riding with the Diaspora” won the recent Sheila-Na-Gig chapbook competition. His work was nominated three times for a Pushcart. He lives on the Illinois Grand Prairie.
Delmarva Review publishes evocative new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction selected annually from thousands of submissions regionally and nationally. Designed to feature the most outstanding new work from aspiring writers, it is an independent, nonprofit literary publication. Financial support comes from tax-deductible contributions, sales, and a grant from the Talbot Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.