Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Stephen Dobyns: The Gardener

After the first astronauts reached heaven
the only god discovered in residence
retired to a little brick cottage
in the vicinity of Venus. He was not
unduly surprised. He had seen it coming
since Luther. Besides, what with the imminence
of nuclear war, his job was nearly over.
As soon as the fantastic had become
a commonplace, bus tours were organized
and once or twice a day the old fellow
would be trotted out from his reading of Dante
and asked to do a few tricks—lightning bolts,
water spouting from a rock, blood from a turnip.
A few of the remaining cherubim
would fly in figure eights and afterwards
sell apples from the famous orchard.
In the evening, the retired god would sometimes
receive a visit from his old friend the Devil.
They would smoke their pipes before the fire.
The Devil would stroke his whiskers and cover
his paws with his long furry tail. The mistake,
he was fond of saying, was to make them in
your image instead of mine. Perhaps, said
the ex-deity. He hated arguing. The mistake,
he had often thought, was to experiment
with animal life in the first place when
his particular talent was as a gardener.
How pleasant Eden had been in those early days
with its neat rows of cabbages and beets,
flowering quince, a hundred varieties of rose.
But of course he had needed insects and then
he made the birds, the red ones which he loved;
later came his experiments with smaller mammals—
squirrels and moles, a rabbit or two. When
the temptation had struck him to make something
really big, he had first conceived of it
as a kind of scarecrow to stand in the middle
of the garden and frighten off predators. What
voice had he listened to that convinced him
to give the creature his own face? No voice
but his own. It had amused him to make
a kind of living mirror, a little homunculus
that could learn a few of his lesser tricks.
And he had imagined sitting in the evening
with his friend the Devil watching the small
human creatures frolic in the grass. They would
be like children, good natured and always singing.
When had he realized his mistake? Perhaps
when he smiled down at the first and it
didn’t smile back; when he reached down to help
it to its feet and it shrugged his hand aside.
Standing up, it hadn’t walked on the paths marked
with white stones but on the flowers themselves.
It’s lonely, God had said. So he made it a mate,
then watched them feed on each other’s bodies,
bicker and fight and trample through his garden,
dissatisfied with everything and wanting to escape.
Naturally, he hadn’t objected. Kicked out,
kicked out, who had spread such lies? Shaking
and banging the bars of the great gate, they had
begged him for the chance to make it on their own.


Stephen Dobyns is the author of The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech (BOA Editions, 2016), as well as 23 novels, 14 books of poetry, two collections of essays, and one book of short stories. Among his many honors and awards are fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Westerly, Rhode Island.

Copyright 1994 Stephen Dobyns. From Velocities: New and Selected Poems: 1966-1992 (Penguin). Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.

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This entry was posted on January 20, 2019 by in Environmentalism, Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , , .

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