Bone Collards

May 12, 2012

Images by Bryan Moats.

In the back yard, near the fence, there’s a large patch of bolted collard greens. We’re gardeners, but we didn’t plant them there.  Like so many greens, they just volunteered, the horticultural remnants of someone who lived in this old house long before us. When they first started to flower I left them there because those small, yellow flowers are so beautiful, the butterflies and bees love them, and, besides, I wanted to save some of the seeds.

After they bolted I saved some of the seeds but didn’t have the heart to rip the mature plants from the ground. The boys love to play near them, reaching up to grab the seed pods and talk about all the “baby seeds” inside.  And the tall stalks provide a nice area for the dogs to run through.  (Also they (the dogs) poop on the other side of the collard greens near the fence and I like that the collard separate us from the doggie toilet). And besides, we’re using the area near the house as our gardening space, so I don’t really need that patch of ground and have no real reason to dig them up, other than, I guess, the fact that it’s possibly considered somehow unseemly to let things grow like that in the city. But that’s one of the reasons I love our neighborhood. Folks around here are fine with little bit of disorder. The collards border our neighbor’s equally overgrown fence. It’s not a place for manicured lawns or orderly front porches, thank goodness. The gardens are wild and beautiful; the houses lived in and loved.

So these collards.  They’ve been bleached by the sun, turning an almost  bone color.  Sometimes when the dusk sun hits them just right, they give off a matte sheen, catching your eye the same way you might suddenly notice a little mammal skull in the woods.  They fall under the weight of the heavy seed pods and look tired and weary. Their  roots are jutting from the ground, thick and overgrown like a root crop. But yet there’s something magical about them.

Maybe it’s  something about the lonesome sound they make when the dogs runs through them or when a young child reaches up to shake the percussive seed pods. Sometimes I’ll find myself getting lost just watching them in the breeze, which, by now, only barely stir the heavy pods.  These moments of deep thought are only seconds long.  Toddlers don’t really ‘get’ meditation and it’s not too long before I have to go and break up a fight over a toy car, re-explain the importance of gentleness and patience, and redirect to a new activity.

Often at night when I’m lying in bed, and I have a few minutes in silence, my mind will flash to images of childhood and my mother.  They’re mosaic bits of memory, largely unformed images, little slivers really, snapshots of things like our old gold carpet or a kitchen tablecloth.  Not my mother, but things that remind me of her.  Images safe enough to doze off to.

And sometimes when I’m sitting on the back porch, dirt under my nails from gardening, gathering up a few short second to watch my sons play monster trucks or look for “worms and carpolis (in case you did not know, this is a mix between a caterpillar and worm and a rolly polly) in the mounds of dirt, I’ll stare out at those collards.  And I often wonder if I were to run through them, my arms outstretched and palms open to catch and shake lose all the dried seed pods,  if maybe, just maybe, I’d break through some kind of portal, of sorts.  I’d be able to not only see the gold carpet of my childhood home, but also hear my mother’s feet upon it.  The tablecloth would become more than just a tablecloth.  It would take its place in the motion and smells of a Sunday dinner she prepared.  I wonder if maybe those collards, the long finger-like seed pods, might transform under my callouses and feel like my mother’s hand.

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