The Year of No Garden
by Kathy Lohrum Cotton

Itís nigh on impossible to find
a plow horse, he tells me, explaining
that Bessieís owner passed on last fall
and the mare went to pasture.

So in the gardenerís ninetieth year,
there will be no sturdy rented horse
to pull straight furrows across
his chain-linked backyard in the city.

He wonít stoop in damp clumps of earth
behind his tidy brick house
to plant corn and okra, potatoes and beans;
wonít tug weeds or lug buckets of water
salvaged from a dripping air conditioner.

This gardener will retire his frayed straw hat
and take his exercise in the cool concrete
of his basement—daily walking a mile
of circles. His laps begin at the furnace,
turn at the washer, pass by shelves
loaded with colorful Mason jars—

several yearsí store of plump tomatoes
he had plunged into boiling water
to loosen their red jackets, beets pickled
with cinnamon and allspice, nuggets
of corn knife-shaved from their cobs.

If his one spindly tree bears this year, he says
heíll put up quarts of small, sweet peaches.
He wonders if heíll outlive the golden jars.

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