“John’s Garden” by Jeff Mann

I speak of it only now, as it withers.
Speech as celebration, I barely remember that.

Speech as scar tissue, that makes more sense.
Autumn’s a whirlpool, a narrowing. We’re almost

to the end of it. As are the anemones you planted,
and the lavender, and the morning glories I admire,

chill days in the driveway, sapphire like
those that twined my grandmother’s porch,

with white pentacles for throats, gold-dust
stamens, texture like a young man’s skin.

Shriveling, the grape tomatoes, the chives and basil.
Once, in anger, you swore you’d become nothing

but my housekeeper. True, touch grows sparse.
My retort: I’m erstwhile stud become cook

and laundress. When did we lose
the gift of praise? Disheartened gardener,

every morning I’m standing in sad delight
before the grieving supernovae of sunflowers,

caressing their petals as I would a lover about to
leave. Would I be more passionate, more giving,

if I were dying, if you were dying, or dramatically
about to decamp with some young, erratic, hugely hung

musician? We’re dying fast enough. Promise to be
here next year, to plant the garden of my mornings,

the garden of the sun. I’ll do my best to be kind, though
beauty is, I fear, after all these years, beyond me,

as is fascination. Our descent’s a slow, gentle
grade, a common fate. Epithalamia

lack the conflict I crave, the epic and addictive extremes
of love lost or unrequited. The elegiac tone’s my talent.

Not my muse? Count your blessings. You’re earth,
I’m fire. I would say, extending the metaphor, you’re root

and I’m flower, but that seems vain, even for me. Love’s either/
or: poetry or longevity. Our years have chosen the latter.


Jeff Mann has published five books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, Ash, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels; two collections of essays, Edge and Binding the God; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; five novels, Fog, Purgatory, Cub, Salvation, and Country; and three volumes of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, Desire and Devour, and Consent.  The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards and two Pauline Réage Novel Awards, he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech.