Peter B. Hyland



What the garden keeps will not wither,
But the garden keeps nothing. My grandfather
Built an arbor, upon which he trained

Vines of corilla, momordica charantia, the bitter melon.
During an afternoon one summer,
Michael & I are talking.

The gourds have almost ripened, a clutching
Meandering growth: muscular, fulsome.
We can see it from the window.

The daylight looks both very hot & very cold.
They’re all the same . . . Michael says. The moment
Shifts, as if now anything can be spoken.

From a vine my grandfather pulls
A single harvest, the gnarled ridiculous fruit,
A warty phallus, the last thing you would think to eat

If asked to pick from the garden, its bitterness
A kind of delicacy.
They’re all the same, those people.

He means the man who had touched
His sister, now pregnant.
He means my grandfather, kneeling at the greenery.

He means black people. Those people. He feels safe
Saying this, because I don’t look like
Those people. I pass

For the upright white American.
I pass so near to you & yet you hardly know.
A wasp jabs itself into a pane of glass,

More than once, feigning impatience.
The garden breathes slowly.
A breath for summer, a breath for winter.

It keeps nothing—
My grandfather exhaled into a nimbus,
The arbor thinned to a vapor.

We are watching the mist tumble over
The leaves and make them brittle.
You continue to say terrible things,

So that I will pay attention
To the wasp fashioning an instrument, an organ
From mud, from what has been withered

& varied & gathered & built
Back up again, a nest of pipes
That vibrate with emptiness as the young rupture

The seals, their stingers
Adorned with beads of venom, this bitterness—
They do not want to hurt you, but will.