In waning winter’s tepid light my grandfather
not content with the stamp size garden
behind his Brooklyn brownstone wheels –
barrows of steamy mink-brown loam, mixed
in the basement with kitchen-scrap compost –
up the stairs, through the bedroom. Dumps them
out the window on the porch roof – piles
he rakes smooth as butter cream icing on cake.
Grows eggplants, beans, cabbages, peppers – waters
with a tin can nailed to a stick, dipper by dipper.
Look at him, at the mess he makes – a ramp,
overlapped planks, twists up the stairs, no room to walk.
Then pushes that contraption brimming with dirt.
Does he think he’s a young man? He’ll give himself
a heart attack – up and down, up and down.
And the neighbors new middle-class calm, shattered
as he thumps, bounces board to board, a subway
rattling the house. Quiet men are the worst. They get notions,
then no stopping them. My grandmother shakes her head,
hands him a glass of water, mops his brow.
Shirt sleeves rolled, arms pale, muscles undefined,
flaccid, used to lifting pencils, not clods of earth –
now tested by the plot he has created.
Like a ballerina he toe-steps round the plants, checks
for bugs, rate of growth. Calculates his harvest dates
more closely than interest on a mortgage.
By summer’s end, hidden by white bank clerk cuffs
a harvest of bulging brown biceps, fresh corn,
beets, steamed, skinned and sliced each night at dinner,
and strawberries to paint our mouths and lips.