"Mulch" by Linda Hasseslstrom

A mulch is a layer of organic matter
used to control weeds,
preserve moisture,
and improve the fertility of the soil.
You will not find naked soil
in the wilderness.

I started cautiously: newspapers,
hay, a few magazines;
Robert Redford stared up
between the rhubarb and the lettuce.

Then one day, cleaning shelves,
I found some old love letters.
I’ve always burned them,
for the symbolism.
But the ashes, gray and dusty
as old passions,
would blow about the yard for days
stinging my eyes,
bitter on my tongue.

So I mulched them:
gave undying love to the tomatoes,
the memory of your gentle hands
to the squash.
It seemed to do them good,
and it taught me a whole new style
of gardening.

Now my garden is the best in the
wilderness,
and I mulch everything:
bills; check stubs;
dead kittens and baby chicks.
I seldom answer letters; I mulch them
with the plans I made
for children of my own,
photographs of places I’ve been
and a husband I had once;
as well as old bouquets
and an occasional unsatisfactory lover.

Nothing is wasted.

Strange plants push up among the corn,
leaves heavy with dark water,
but there are
no weeds.

“Mulch” by Linda Hasselstrom, from Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky, published 2017 by Spoon River Poetry Press.

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