Bittersweet

In your book, success
was a dirty word, fame
even dirtier, wealth
not to be uttered;
the work was all that mattered.
I took that to heart, I guess—
the program if not the prowess—
in my own monkish fashion:
“So much to say no to
before you can start to say yes”
having long been my motto.
No, for instance,
to the bittersweet
I’m trying to extirpate
from under the garden fence.
I’d thought nothing of it
except that its berries
might brighten the bare wires
like a coat of arms on a wall,
but it’s taken over the place
just as your looks have taken over my face—
lost, one has to assume,
in the delirium of its own joyous work
of making the entire universe,
or at any rate this fence,
a monument to its own magnificence;
and not just this swarm of scarlet, orange-winged berries
or the intractable tanglings
of vines like stiffened springs,
but these astounding roots also:
blood-bright, trailing their corpse-hair capillaries
down through the topsoil. I yank them out
only to find they’ve coiled right down through the shale
into solid bedrock,
leaving a lizard tail in each crack
potent enough to grow the whole lizard back
just in case there remained any doubt, any question
as to the error, the sheer utter folly, of planning
a garden of one’s own
where bittersweet has grown.

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James Lasdun teaches at the New School and is the author of several books of fiction and poetry, including the novel Seven Lies (2005) and a collection of poems, Landscape With Chainsaw (2001).

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