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I. Opening Remarks

In the suburbs the houses lie low to the ground

and the green grass grows all around, all around,

and the green grass grows all around.

Peter, Peter, Potato-Chip Eater,

had a wife and couldn't keep her,

put her in a mortgaged shell

and there he kept her.

Very well,

she stands at the sink.

She has one finger on the disposal button.

She is poised for the tune of disappearing food

that would feed a substantial number of orphans

elsewhere.

II. The Portal-Keeper

Leave her alone.

You see her there, where

she huddles in a dress of bedraggled cotton,

curled on a concrete bench,

in the garden corner surrounded by thick and brown

drifting leaves.

The fog has begun to stream softly

through the brown wet leaves;

soon she will be wrapped in leaves and fog.

Leave her alone.

She is a poor small huddled thing,

she is young and bruised,

and through her soul

stroll talkative monsters.

For some reason,

in the hum of the house about her,

over the song of the power mower,

over the chant of the blender,

she heard something calling.

I say leave her alone.

Harm her not.

Because she has dared to go out,

without any guide,

all the way to the Window.

III. The Avant-Gardener

It's wet there, where she lies,

and I'd move her,

were it for me to say.

I'd find a simple way

and I'd move her.

It's fairly rending, listen, how she cries . . .

All of the leaves are brown and slick;

they move when you touch 'em.

Were it for me to say.

I'd see she was brought away

to someplace warm and comforting, someplace dry.

It's fairly rending, look there, how she lies . . .

IV. The Portal-Keeper

The wind sifts through the trees,

there is only one rough edge of greenish moon;

the brown clouds, the brown leaves,

swell with their autumn wetness;

far away, on the silent deserts,

you can hear the singing of the lizards.

One creeps beneath a rock and shivers with joy.

So long as they sing in the purple desert light,

so long as they stay small,

they are bearable creatures.

Were one to see them large,

howling against a sky snagged by a raw moon,

the holy men of the sands would see the people

going out in the dead of night with their flasks of poisons

into the dens of the lizards,

destroying them utterly.

In order to reach the other side,

in order to pass the Window by,

she must see them large,

rampant, their claws covered with dung,

pierced by the spiny plants they skitter among;

she must know them for what they are.

V. The Avant-Gardener

Three things about a flower, just three things.

There's the smell of it, first of all, its wonderful smell.

Then there's its wicked thorn. And last of all,

inside of it, there's the little bee that stings.

Bees, too, the Lord made small,

bless Him for that,

small and in need of the sun.

A professor once showed me one

in a microscope

so I'd know how bees are made,

and it haunted my sleep for nights,

I was that afraid.

Lord God, the face of 'im, eyes as fat

as grapes, and him all hairy and clawed,

and I thought, ah, keep him a small thing,

there's a good God!

VI. The Portal-Keeper

The space she must cross is narrow, good friend gardener,

a band of burned brown grass stretched cracked and flat,

the Window on either side, ahead and behind,

one bench, one tree, one moon, and the howling lizards,

and she must go back or go on,

she cannot stay where she is.

The bench is for contemplation, not for shelter.

She is not to be harmed;

to do her harm is forbidden.

Yet she must decide,

she must go forward or back.

The beasts have no power

over the unafraid.

Soon the leaves will have covered her over entirely,

soon the clouds will have suffocated the moon,

soon the wind will have mounded the bench completely,

soon it will be too late for her transplanting.

Tell her, good friend gardener. Go tell her.

VII. The Avant-Gardener

Behold the hill of light stretched out before you,

through the brown cropped grass your feet feel the jeweled air,

and the grass and the tree and the leaves and the sky are gone,

and you are alone at the foot of the spiraling stair.

Your bare feet know the way to the top of it all,

where the bridges are flung from the side to the farthest wall,

in single strands of gold and silver twined.

The beasts, child—the beasts are all in your mind.

VIII. Closing Remarks

In the suburbs the houses lie long and low to the ground

and the green grass grows all around, all around,

and the green grass grows all around.

She stands at the sink,

one finger poised on the disposal button,

and

suddenly she is not there.

Suddenly it is all disposed of.

Suddenly she sways on her camel,

almond eyes hooded in the desert glare,

one slender hand clutching the tasselled reins,

the animal warm and rhythmic under its carven saddle.

She bends to whisper in its ear,

and up ahead the oasis looms;

at its cool center, surrounded by date palms,

is the mystery.

Behind her, the Window is slowly closing.


Suzette Haden Elgin is a linguist, writer, artist, songwriter, poet, businessperson, housewife, and grandmother of twelve. Her best known books are the Native Tongue and Ozark science fiction trilogies and her nonfiction Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series; her most recent is Twenty Novel Poems, from Sam's Dot Publishing. You can check out her website at http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin.



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17 Jan 2022

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