I like gardening. Since I am God
I can decide – inside these fences –
who lives, who dies, whose will is denied.
Pansies worship me, faces
pleading for light, more light. Nature
permits some running to seed,
some carelessness in omnipotent care.
Let rain beat them down.
They rise again, encouraged by sun.
I rip to the bone, uproot the worst.
Bindweed, buttercups, coltsfoot – gone.
This thistle shall live. As I gripped it
my glove slipped. It hurt me the most
I can recall. I know I exist.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2010 was Jen Hadfield.
'Garden of Love' is more emphatic than much of Helena Nelson's Plot and Counter-Plot, which is an elegant and disquieting collection, almost a collection of ghost poems, laden with implication and suggestion. Nelson's very good at dropping you into the centre of a predicament, as she does here, into the ultimate microcosm, mismanaged by a troubling, possible God.
I love gardening – not that I ever do as much of it as I should like. And I've always been interested in the notion of 'weeds', the plants we don't want. In particular, my garden is rich in yellow poppies, thistles, self-seeded pansies and nasturtiums. I admire all of these hardy survivors, especially when in full bloom, but I still yank them up, especially when they take over the path. I have a wild corner behind the shed, where I hurl their poor uprooted selves, and where they don't grow nearly so happily as before. It all strikes me as playing God, though the plants will last longer than me, something I don't mind in the least. I like their names, too. It strikes me as satisfying to be able to name them as you uproot them, a bit like apologising to a tree before you cut it down. Now and again, they get revenge. A particularly nasty thorn hurts like hell, and quite right too: it puts you in your place as a temporary phenomenon. So that's where the poem came from. It has fourteen lines too, so it's a sort of unruly sonnet. It doesn't scan like a sonnet: it's quite pruned and a bit thorny. But I was in charge of this fragment of creation and so I had the last word.