An undesirable garden by Janet Rogerson
The cement mixer is here,
one hand on its head,
the other on its tummy.
Our gardening books are thumbed grey.
We mither over colours, the shape of petals,
he insists upon a bed of brown tulips,
stone-bells in the shade garden
before the dell, and sandflowers
over there for damp summers.
We are in love of course
and our books know it.
His grandmother always said
you can’t make a garden without love.
That was his father’s mother, the one
who didn’t take her coat of, ever,
and at baby’s funeral, at home-time
hot-faced and buttoned up, said
thanks very much, I’ve enjoyed it.
But let me explain, we can’t, we won’t
have any of the buzzing things in our garden.
We will not make one more
space that contains them.
We will sculpt instead of plant,
paint bright and not water,
our petals will be hard,
our grass sharp, and only
the unscented will be welcome here.
Most people are used to cement being delivered in ready-mix lorries, but it’s possible to mix your own. I spent a certain amount of time staring at cement mixers as a child, so, although one of our readers didn’t get the opening three lines, I got them entirely. The barrel of the thing churns the mix, but there’s also the round handle at the side which you use to tilt the mixed cement into the barrow. These kind of details are important to me. The opening of the poem is explained in its third stanza, where we discover that the garden will be sculpted and painted, and without buzzing things – no chance of pollination/ fertilization. The kick of the poem is in the middle stanza and is one of those potent unsettlings of expectation that Janet is so good at, where ‘baby’s funeral’ is fused into a children’s party – ‘home-time’, capped by the grandmother’s remark. Remarkable.