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Vermont, June 2020
to Sara Grossman
My former student sent me six or seven
little homemade packets—folded paper
labelled and taped. Inside each packet
she’d tucked a few heritage seeds:
squash, lettuce, kale, peas, more I am forgetting.
April in Vermont. Not a warm April.
Still way too cold to plant the seeds outside.
I took dirt from the not-yet-tilled garden
and planted the seeds in an empty egg carton
and labelled each oval hollow
and set the egg box on a sunny sill.
May. Snow again. The weather
mercurial as our feelings day by day:
Sun, snow, late April,
Snow, sun, early May.
The world pure white; and then the morning melt.
Eventually the seeds began to sprout.
but the cats, noticing this, climbed one night
onto the sill and nibbled the young shoots,
tender and green and irresistible.
Or could it have been mice?
I moved the egg box to a higher place.
And by the second week (was it?) in May
the ground was ready, and the sun was warm.
The seeds were ready. I was ready. So
I planted the little shoots,
gnawed as they were—they never had stopped growing.
But by this time the labels
had gotten wet and blurred or fallen off.
The one thing I was sure of was the pea plants.
Fast forward (though it feels both fast and slow
in this timeless time):
the second week of June.
The peas—two plants—are burgeoning,
green tendrils curling, reaching
for something to cling to and then to climb on.
And nestled next to them a mysterious bonus:
a hardy squash plant. I was going to move it
but squash and pea looked so happily intertwined,
flourishing cheek by jowl, I let them be.
What is the most beautiful thing
on the black earth? asked Sappho.
I say it is what one loves.
The beautiful pea plants hopefully pushing upward
out of the black earth
obey their nature despite the pandemic.
Despite the pandemic, spring is in the air.
The garden doesn’t care.
The virus, also obedient to its nature,
follows its own laws.
Sara, thank you for sending me these seeds,
for thinking to do it and then doing it.
Even if most of them got lost
(my heedlessness) in their passage to the earth,
one or two have survived. I can see them growing.
Sara, student, poet, teacher,
lover and scholar of nature, brown fields, green fields,
lover of ruined cities and of gardens,
in sending these seeds you gave me
an unexpected gift, a perfect gift
for this place and time.
The seeds, a gift of hope, also signify
your impulse to show your gratitude
for what I barely remember having given you,
because in giving whatever it was I gave you
I too was obedient to laws
I was barely aware of,
laws inscribed in you, in me,
in this young pea plant sending out its tender shoots,
ready to reach, connect, cling, climb, and hold,
and spread, and grow.
From Pandemic Almanac (Ragged Sky, 2022). Copyright Rachel Hadas 2022. Included in Vox Populi with permission.
Rachel Hadas is the author of many books of poetry, prose, and translations. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant in poetry, and an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.