C. L. Bledsoe

Lonnie's Garden

Mornings when it was too wet to plant,
or afternoons when everyone else was drinking,
he tended the garden, producing perfect melons,
swollen, rich tomatoes,
strawberries that tasted like strawberries, squash
and eggplants and corn for the family, sweet stuff,
not even comparable to anything
from a store, same as his mother had planted for her house
since the Depression. 

He planted two rows of greens over by the road
to keep the fish customers busy
so they wouldn't boss
over the men's shoulders. I remember those old women, dark
as unsweetened chocolate, stooping down to pick,
stiff from age and arthritis,
chattering back and forth at this bit of kindness.
The secrets they knew
of catfish and mustard greens,
one could only imagine. 

I always marveled at his stamina. Summers,
after a day of learning rice farming, I was ready
to collapse, already slipping into the habit of laziness.
We watched TV sprawled out, ate, and did
nothing else. I didn't understand working hard in the waning sun
after a day already spent in toil, just for something extra,
tasty as it was. But he was already sweating when we pulled up
in the still rising morning.  

The garden lay fallow for years after he stopped showing
his too much teased face around what was left of the farm,
a third of which was proven his
by law, and was slowly being sold off.
My brother took the patch over
to have something to complain about.
He gives my sister already rotting tomatoes, thin squash,
tasteless and sickly, and leaves it to the weeds for weeks at a time,

which is better than my own attempts at gardening.
Neither of us has the knack for it. Spoiled
by the saccharine sweetness of store bought veggies
for so long, we've forgotten the reward
of fresh, real food; we've made due for too long
sleeping in, seeing no need for inviting extra work.