The Garden Expert Talks about Lilacs
They wander in, the couples, looking for lilacs.
They’re young; they don’t know squat about their plants.
I tell them every time: You get at most
two weeks in flower. Then the blooms turn brown.
They hang on till they turn to brown-black seedheads
that drain the plant of vigor and look like death
unless you’re out there wielding a pair of loppers,
pruning them off, patiently, one by one.
Don’t get the white kinds if you love your lawn!
They sucker—send up more shoots every year
as if they meant to colonize the planet
like movie Martians. And don’t try being frugal
by using sucker shoots to start a hedge!
The volunteers—the elm and maple seedlings—
take root among the stems, and soon they’re in
too deep for weeding, full of fast new growth.
They stick their wacky limbs up tall and wide
and finally make a sad disfigured hash
of your hedge plan. I’ll tell you how it ends:
in twenty years, in thirty, you’ll be here
renting a truck or tractor to pull up
the stumps of your Frankenstein hedge.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I tell them this.
It makes no difference; some still leave with lilacs.
It has a lot to do with living here
where winter’s five months long. We can forgive
a lot in a plant that wakes us with perfume
after we think we’ve died. They buy the purple,
the species, since it’s cheap; they buy the white
because it’s fragrant—tip the pot on its side,
the branches poking out of the tied-down trunk,
and drive off, dreaming of vases filled with sprays
of giant bracts of bloom in bridal white,
set in the bedroom, along with other things
uselessly warned against, and much too brief.
Editor’s Note: The voice of the narrator in this poem is wise and experienced, but also exasperated. It transcends the usual first person narrative of so much modern poetry and becomes a conversation between the character and the reader.