I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
The other day, I couldn’t read the news any longer, couldn’t answer any more emails or texts, and instead I threw my whole body into weeding the flowerbeds and the garden. I tugged hard at the American pokeweed, huge and looming in their wide green foliage and red rhubarb-like stalk and poisonous apparently to even the touch. I yanked out the Virginia creeper so satisfying to tug, because soon, the whole slinky weed came up out of the vibrant green cypress it was trying to strangle, and it felt as if I’d just solved one of the world’s issues.
At one point, after pruning the rosebush and doing my best to stop the wintercreeper from overtaking the boxwoods and anemones, I felt almost like a violent destroyer. Fueled by the day’s news and more alive in my body than I had been in months, I was frenzied and covered in scrapes and the rage against the world felt good. I pulled up the poison ivy and the stray mint that escaped its raised bed. I cut down some honeysuckle and sawed off the trunk of three mimosa seedlings ready to take over the fence line.
I couldn’t stop. I was wild with what it meant to control something, anything, even this little bit of land that I love and want to thrive. Still, there is a part of me that knows it is a violent act to weed and pull and yank and kill in order to make another thing thrive, a planted thing. Who gets to decide what is a flower and what’s a weed?
But on that day, I got to decide. I was so proud of myself it was absurd, even the bruises, the plants scratching back, I was proud of them as they stung and pulsed in the shower. I was scarred from my work and I liked it. And the whole next day I could barely move, and some part of me liked that too.
Today’s poem speaks to the visceral thrill of making room for plants to thrive by pulling out the invasive weeds around them.
by Dan Rosenberg
I shove through bush and bed, stumping along our house. Somewhere I learned not to let the plants grow too close, something about air flow, rot, our home’s slow demolition by vine. I wrap my hand around a dandelion, pull into the tension, breathless for the slight snap of roots, then harder, until the earth releases it, or it gives up its hold on the ground. I sunder something deep, throw the plant with its knot of dirt to the driveway. The foliage extends. A branch slaps back, leaves an archipelago of blood along my calf. Another, another, I don’t know their names, just pull with faith in the prior owner, in her fertile excess that even my blunders won’t undo. One white twig feels hollow, comes loose in my hand, but what of it was underground is red as a crime, bent and beckoning. The spring’s first accidental sweat catches in the corners of my squint. When I stand upright, survey my labor, nothing looks better.
"Weeding" by Dan Rosenberg, from BASSINET copyright © 2022 Dan Rosenberg. Used by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.