Wendy Thompson Taiwo

Black Garden Songs


I spread the seeds wild like children
The seeds, they crack             wide             with vegetation
Their limbs growing long in the sun
You strip their roots back like weeds
There were too many, you said
Their throats, hungry, sucking all the phosphorous 
from the soil, sang of a sweet garden bed 
even as you cursed them, Lord, you cursed them
Called them weeds
Poisoned them until there was nothing left but rot
O how the crows scratch and shriek and feast 
in that all miserable 
                                    stem and head


I want blues and purples in my yard
My dad says grass
I want flowering shrubs that attract hummingbirds 
and vines that snake                longwise across my fence
My dad says grass
A tree that weeps, a cactus that pricks
My father: a lawn, a plot, some grass
Two planter boxes made of reused lumber bursting 
with pregnant tomato plants, 
                                                                        and berries 

When are you going to water it? Mow it ‘round the edges?
A towering redwood with towhees and crows, 
California natives growing wild around driftwood 
arranged in a spire, 
                        river stones circling the stonecrop
My dad says, show them you’re American and middle class:
The grass, the grass, the grass


Wednesday morning
I went outside & found these
things in the compost bin:
A rusty nail
A White Mystery Airhead wrapper
A banana peel, black and limp
A discarded Black & Mild carton
Someone’s manhood 
in the kitchen crumbs
I don’t know
it was too raggedy 
            to identify
The rice soggy
The rice hard
The rice
My father’s 46-year-old 
law school dreams buried 
under the body of his 
grandmother’s domestic service
His dreams laid out like 
church clothes 
next to the collards I didn’t 
pull out 
            on time
Pulled out too late 
& threw them away 
So late
the aborted dinner side had begun 
            to flower
See it? 
Right there by the collarbone
next to peel & rind & skin
No meat
            or teeth
(You always hated the
first and last bookends 
            of the bread
all rough edge & crust)
Near the bottom
three raccoons dig
through the discards
Near the bottom
the slave catcher and his hounds
go running through 
the tall grass clippings 
            & yard waste
His gun & noose 
stamped on the lid of
the Outlaw Bros. pizza box 
The same pizza we ordered 
when I went over to __’s place 
for dinner & a movie
            & I never woke up
Smashed eggshells remind me 
of the alabaster casings I walked on
during childhood trying to avoid 
the caustic spilled coffee 
of my night-blooming 
He was a clerical man 
who worked at the port
& raised chickens and beans
            a city-country boy
Ask him who all 
was at the party 
& left paper plates 
with grease stains
with cake stains
with blood stains?
Blame those men whose hands 
hit like hammers
& made me run away like 
“They’re good for compost,” 
Ken the store associate said, 
“Bury them deep in the dirt.”
But there was never 
enough dirt 
just like there were never 
enough paper towels
to wipe up all this soda 
            & blood
Can you imagine 
cleaning up after a party 
while the entire 
homeowners association
& the northern rim of 
Big Basin 
The gardening website said:
A good mix of browns 
and greens in your compost pile 
is about 4:1 browns (carbon) 
to greens (nitrogen)
I guess some of this stuff 
is good for my flowers
I made sure to scoop out 
all the ashes from a state 
eternally on fire

Wendy Thompson Taiwo is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at San José State University. Her writing has appeared in Typehouse, Mn Artists, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, Nokoko, and numerous anthologies.