The Roses are Remembered: Land Songs

by Elizabeth Cunningham

June 25th marked a year since Douglas and I moved from our house in the woods to High Valley  The last time I posted here, I wrote about feeling overwhelmed with our responsibilities and with other complications regarding this legacy. Many people reached out to me in response to that post, and I have also felt encouraged to ask for help. Thank you, everyone! 
I have also fallen more and more in love with the gardens, and the plants have become my companions and teachers.  This is the first year I have observed closely all the myriad flowerings, beginning in late February with snowdrops and aconites; then came daffodils, tulips, periwinkles, and phlox followed by poppies, allium, and iris, and a yellow flower whose name I still don’t know with small five-pointed cups that bloom all up and down the stalk. (No, it’s not mullein). Now is the season of lilies, bee balm, and daisies. 
Most mornings I am outside a little after six. I still go to the far side of the pond (where I have been breakfasting on blackcaps) to do chi gung on the dock. On my way back to the house I visit all the gardens, watering and weeding where necessary, but mostly just greeting everything, praising everything, feeling so grateful for the abundance of life and beauty.  
(Note: High Valley now has a retreat room for guests that includes use of a kitchen and the freedom to enjoy the land, gardens, pond, and trails. Get in touch with me through the website, if you would like to make a retreat.) 
My friend Tom Cowan encouraged me to sing the songs of the land that I hear. Inspired by Tom’s friend the poet JK McDowell who read at High Valley from his collection of ghazalNight, Mystery, and Light, I gathered some of these songs and put them in that form.  (12 syllables per line, 3 lines per stanza, 6 stanzas, each one able to stand by itself). I offer the result with gratitude to everyone and to this land. 
…the roses are remembered: land songs
here is the place where human and wild interlace
what is planted, what plants itself, what is tended
what unintended yet more perfect than your plan
the wild wood takes care of its own in its own time
windstorm, wildfire, flood shift its shape, take and give life
what humans make—then abandon—becomes ruin
year by year you grow more deeply rooted, your leaves
may fall or fly, you may wish you could go with them
but you stay here, storm-shaken or still, one more year
in the eyesore, weedy sandbox framed by cement,
you planted ornamental grass and columbine
I gave bladderwort, succulents, German onion
along the pond the frogs sing my song, note by note,
the redwings know their part; robins hear the song of worms
what is silent also sings, listen, your part waits
the one before you planted roses, then forgot
the way she planted everything then turned it loose
now back from near death, the roses are remembered.
PS: All you lovers of Maeve. She is still with me. She is with you. She gets around. From what I hear, the electronic version of the novels will soon be available.
I am in the midst of writing a mystery novel, also historical—set in 1960. Having fun with the characters, trusting the detective dimension will work.  I do like a challenge. Between garden plots and mystery plotting, I may not be posting here very frequently. Maeve and I do post on FaceBook and Twitter more frequently.
Do keep in touch. How your gardens, literal or figurative, growing?

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Unknown July 3, 2012 - 1:46 am

Beautiful view of where you live and of the other living things that live there with you. You have such a gift for noticing, as well as for words.

I read your ghazal (can't believe that's pronounced "guzzle") and I loved every word of it, even though I don't understand the form–or much of any form in poetry.

Brooke July 3, 2012 - 5:56 am

So beautiful, Elizabeth. I am so humbled by the beauty of your words, poetry or other. I am blown away by the feeling your words leave with me, as though an ancient wind has just blown through me, whispering secrets in a language I can't understand with the head– but somehow the heart is left softer and more supple, and the eyes much more able and ready to see. Thank you. Deep bows.


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