Poetry and Yard Work

It’s autumn here in North Dakotaland and that means that we are enjoying the last gasp burst of color from the trees along rivers and streams, a certain smokey crispness in the air, and the drone of leaf blowers and lawn mowers that anticipates the guttural growl of the snow blower.

This week, we thought it was appropriate to share Wade Fox’s poem “Yard Work” which sets the seasonal routine of gardening against the more linear progress of growing up. It appeared in NDQ 89.1/2.

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Yard Work

Fiona and I work in the yard, planting,
home from the nursery, carrying
pots of herbs—cilantro, rosemary,
basil, thyme—and flowers for the beds
in the garden. The sky is a luminous
blue; the clouds climb towards infinity
and shine with reflected light. I set
Fiona to weeding the herb bed,
which is choked with grass and snaking vines,
so she will allow me to dig the holes and plant
the flowers. She is twelve, skinny, long-armed,
long-legged, and eager to demonstrate how
capable she is, insisting on doing
the hard work, lifting the bags, carrying
shovels. So, worried she might hurt
herself—and frankly to get some work done—
I keep her busy and distracted. She
clears the bed down to the soil. Not
a blade of grass is left in the smooth, dark
earth, and I plant flowers in another
bed—columbine, lavender, lupine, foxglove,
and phlox. Then, I return to Fiona,
to help plant the herbs. The rosemary,
a bush, requires a hole at least a foot
deep. Fiona asks to dig it, but I
insist I’ll start, and I jump on the lugs
of the shovel, and the blade slices
into the earth with a satisfying
sound like a knife rubbed against
a hone. I get the hole started
and let her dig after she keeps asking.
She’s so light and small that, when she
jumps onto the lugs, she almost
bounces off the shovel, but she is fierce
and proud, refuses to relent; and I
feel unworthy of such love, how she wishes
to prove herself to me over and over,
to hear my words of praise, to feel my embrace.
I wish I could believe I deserved such
devotion. I wonder how I’ll disappoint
her. I watch her attack that hole, too small
to do it well, too proud to stop, her hair
hanging in her face as she chops grimly
at the soil as I watch. I want to stop
her but also want to give her room to try.
When I see she is tired, scraping the shovel
in the bottom of the hole, I ask to take
over. I praise her, and widen the hole,
comment on the work she has done.
Sweat is falling into my eyes, making
them burn. I tip the rosemary from its
pot and place it in the hole. Fiona
scrapes the loose soil around the roots with
her hands. When she stands, she’s smiling. Her hands
are muddy; there’s mud on her knees. She looks up
at me, her face open and triumphant.
I take her hand in mine and look
up at the sky as the clouds drift away.


Wade Fox lives in Denver and teaches writing at the Community College of Denver. He is the founder of New Feathers Anthology, an online and print literary and art journal, and he writes both poetry and fiction.

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