Poetry Sunday: An Insider's View of the Garden

When Maxine Kumin, a former poet laureate of the United States, died in February of this year, she left behind a large body of work that attested to her love of plants and gardening. I share that love and one of the clearest expressions of it that I have seen is this Kumin poem about her vegetable garden.

An Insider's View of the Garden
by Maxine Kumin

How can I help but admire the ever perseverant
unquenchable dill
that sways like an unruly crowd at a soccer match
waving its lacy banners
where garlic belongs or slyly invading a hill
of Delicata Squash -
how can I help but admire such ardor? I seek it

as bees the flower's core, hummingbirds
the concocted sugar water
that lures them to the feeder in the lilacs.
I praise the springy mane
of untamed tendrils asprawl on chicken wire
that promise to bring forth
peas to overflow a pillowcase.

Some days I adore my coltish broccolis,
the sketch beginnings
of their green heads still encauled, incipient trees
sprung from the Pleistocene.
Some days the leeks, that Buckingham Palace patrol
and the quarter-mile of beans
- green, yellow, soy, lima, bush and pole -
demand applause. As do dilatory parsnips,
a ferny dell of tops regal as celery. Let me laud onion that erupts
slim as a grass stem
then spends the summer inventing its pungent tulip
and the army of brussels sprouts
extending its spoon-shaped leaves over dozens of armpits

that conceal what are now merely thoughts, mere nubbins
needing long ripening.
But let me lament my root-maggot-raddled radishes
my bony and bored red peppers
that drop their lower leaves like dancehall strippers
my cauliflowers that spit
out thimblesize heads in the heat and take beetles to bed.

O children, citizens, my wayward jungly dears
you are all to be celebrated
plucked, transplanted, tilled under, resurrected here
- even the lowly despised
purslane, chickweed, burdock, poke, wild poppies.
For all of you, whether eaten or extirpated
I plan to spend the rest of my life on my knees.


"...unquenchable dill
that sways like an unruly crowd at a soccer match
waving its lacy banners..."

What an image! And what, in this week of the World Cup, could possibly be more au courant?


  1. What a lovely poem. I love the quote you pulled, too. Made me smile as I read it.

    1. I think all gardeners can easily relate to Kumin's poem. She obviously was a REAL gardener - as well as a real poet.


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