I keep her garden,
worrying for the spent columbine and daisy
that sleep through winter
in beds of straw.
The rain barrel stands
full of dark water, in the dark.
It opens its mouth as if to speak.
– from “Inheritance” by Kathleen Norris
“I keep her garden,” I copied into my journal this morning. Packets of seeds – carrots, lettuce, Jack-Be-Little pumpkins – sit on the counter upstairs in the kitchen. I am keeping my mother’s garden now that she’s gone, as Norris did for her mother.
Here is what came out of copying that line:
I imagine my days framed with dirt. My hands tired and dry. My back achy and supple. I wonder if this is how it will be, or if I will grow tired, weary of ripening, as I so often grow tired of men and jobs. I want to vow to be faithful, but it seems wrong to vow about a garden as it would be, I imagine, to vow about a child whose care you committed to before she even existed. To need to vow seems to show some defect, some flaw in my humanity or in what humanity could be.
So I will not vow; I will dream of hillocks with cucumbers and rows of strawberries. Of my body growing leaner. Of the taste the first radish will burn on my tongue.
There seems to me an earth’s difference between a vow (or promise if you will) and a dream. A dream will drive you forward and keep you lively. A promise, if seen as a duty, can drag me down and burden me with obligation. I don’t want to feel obligated to keep my mother’s garden, to write a book, to spend time with friends, to be healthy, to rest, to sew. I want to dream of doing those things, look forward to the moments when they can be done, like I look forward to the tang that hits the back of my mouth when I eat my first summer strawberry.
So in this year of much that is new and so much that is old and dear, I will dream. I will dream of the day the columbine creeps out of the ground with its hand-like leaves. I will dream of the potatoes to be dug, gold and red, from the earth in the fall. I will dream of the littlest of pumpkins gracing the October table. I will dig and dream, and I will feel my mother’s hands touch mine through the dirt.