Matt Pine

Let’s plant a garden!

Let’s plant cockle shells and tubular bells.

Let’s plant cocker spaniels and titular manuals.

Let’s plant apple seeds. Let’s plant cherry pits. Let’s walk like children head down through the park, and let’s pick up every granule of germination that we find. That means watermelon seeds and religious literature. That means sneeze-soaked tissues and magazine subscription cards. That means credit card debt and club memberships. That means rhyming poetry and dandelion fuzz. Because, Look! Look, mom! It’s a seed and I’m going to plant a garden!

It’ll be a Garden of Eden – walled and ripening. It’ll be a hoarder’s apartment – walled and ripening. Let’s plant opera programs. Let’s plant empty cans wet with anchovy oil. Let’s plant birthday cards. That is, in the general sense, let’s plant records of live entertainment, empty parcels of food, and the litter of human affection. We will sow all these things to recall how we were fed, and loved, and amused, because we know that in four hours or in five minutes we will be hungry, and lonely, and bored, and wouldn’t it be nice if a balm for these aches spilled up from the ground?

I know what you’re wondering: Where will we plant this garden? We live in an apartment and we have no yard. We have no patio, no roof deck, and window boxes are a sad compromise. I propose the air shaft. We will open our bathroom window onto that deep rectangle. Beneath the reek of soap and sewage we will find a perfect plot of rich dark soil. We will scrape the mold from the skylight so that the sun spills in undirtied. Oh yes, this will be perfect. Our seedlings will be encouraged by the sound of morning grooming and shower singing. Herbal Essence has fertilizing fumes. Mock 3s are plowshares of increasing closeness. Our garden will be protected from squirrels who steal melons and children who pluck flowers. And we will have a secret place to show our friends. And we will have a secret place to be alone by ourselves.

But will the air shaft be large enough?

No, I don’t think so.

No, not in its current form.

No, not to hold our favorite sweater. You know the one: the sweater that was shrank, and stained, and torn. The sweater that looked great even after it suffered that the hat trick of clothing calamity. No, the air shaft will not be large enough, not when our sweater is impregnated with moth balls and placed in a cedar coffin. No, not when we must plant it beside a stone wall. No, not that when it sprouts beneath guide wires and metal anchors. No, not when we grow an espaliered tree with wool bark and button seeds.

I’m sorry I had to use the the word “espaliered.” Frankly, it’s not how I regularly talk, but in this context it is both pretentious and accurate. And to be completely honest, I only learned what it meant when I read the Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary. She, and I guess Flaubert, used the word multiple times. I won’t define it here because that would be condescending. And look! Look at our lovely cardigan birch!

To make room in the air shaft we will lean against the walls and wait for them to loosen. This is a trick we learned in yoga class. We will tell ourselves that emotional memories are often held in walls, and while we do not know if this is supposed to be a metaphor, we know that by leaning and breathing deeply we might feel strong feelings and after a while, after some deep self-selfing, slowly, slowly, the space will gave way, and we will be able to shape our plot to provide for all that we need. And remember what the yoga teacher instructs: You are abundant! You are overflowing! Yes, yes, we will say, leaning into the walls and groaning, of course, and please, please, let the me that stiffens here spill over me.

Plant the butts of American Spirits, because those those the pips of the nicotine bush. They will grow into the shape of lungs with bronchial blooms of pink and white petals.

Crack the spine of a thriller to loosen the spores. Now blow. We have just sowed the ferns of noir. A low fog will gather in the corners. There will be a rustling and a shocking discovery.

Scatter coffee grounds so that our plants will be wide awake.

Pour out bourbon so that our plants will be able to sleep.

Dig a hole with your hands and scream into it, “Look at me!” and there will grow an actor.

Dig a hole with your hands and scream into it, “Listen to me!” and there will grow a poet.

Dig a hole with your hands and scream into it, “That is too dangerous!” and there will grow a fruit tree and in the pears you will see your mother’s face.

We will tend the garden in the morning before work. This is, when it’s nearly light, and we’re nearly awake, and before our ambitions are narrowed by fluorescence and keyboards. We will tend the garden on the weekends. That is, while the rest of the city stands in brunch lines or snores through hungover stupors, we will have muddy knees and stooped shoulders. We will arrange stakes and twine and markers and rows and labels and dirt mounts and furrows and trellises. We will become practical sculptors.

At night, when our apartment is humid agitation, when we lie awake dreading the morning and reliving the day before, when it seems like we’re always in an irritated moment between frustrations and anxiety, when the bedspread and the mattress feel like mildewed bookends, we will consider the garden. We will open the bathroom window, we’ll feel a curl of cool air, and we will listen. Is that the sound of creeping green? We will use our sheets to make a rope ladder. We will climb down the air shaft into a dark, quiet chill. We will walk out beneath the moon and wonder where the tendrils will reach. We will yank down the ladder and restore linens from the knots. We will lie down in the garden. Ah, how great we will sleep then. Because something better is coming. Yes, we are sure it is coming, yes, the future will be bumper.

Matt Pine’s debut novel City Water Light & Power was published last summer by Cairn Press. He currently lives in San Francisco, where he is a founding ensemble member of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists. He is not very good at the internet here and @obligaccount.