They Dream of Being Gardeners


Among smoking piles of leaves
the gardeners stash straw and pig manure
around the roses to overwinter.
On the curbside, gutted flowers
are forked onto the truck.

Leaves rattle down my neck,
acorns poke my knees,
as boxfuls of tulips, crocuses
are placed into the forked-over soil
with the heels of the hands.

Bone meal dust lifts into the eyes, the nose.
Everywhere burned and broken bone
poured around each bulb.

The gravediggers talk of the stench
of death, when a body is exhumed.
The backhoe cutting through the watertable
unleashes the wash of graves uphill
and an unholy mist rises from the pit.
A smell that remains for days
in the windless hollow of the cemetery,
on the clothing, in the nostrils.

With each bulb, the burial of some animal part.
The nostrils turn with the stomach.
The smell of smoke and bone.

The other gardeners see themselves
as better than the gravediggers,
who must leave their coveralls
outside the lunchroom,
whose wives will not have them
on those days when the old graves are opened.

But none of them dares look
into the mouths of the graves
just as the gravediggers do not touch the roses.

And the gravediggers dream of being gardeners
having filled too many holes with the dead.
The reminder always too much,
their eyes like plumb bobs
on the surface of this life,
plummet with every shovelful
into the stinking water of the swimmers
in the lake under our feet.


Bruce Hunter, Two O'Clock Creek: Poems New and Selected, Oolichan Books, 2010.