John Hoppenthaler







Anna’s Garden



Anna tends to her garden like some latter day

Rappacini, weeding, digging, pinching stray shoots

in a well-worn peasant’s frock. She colors the gray

wash of living alone with black flowers, their roots

snaking soil, down and down, aching for the deepest

river. A clipped hedgerow of Sambucus blooms pink

in late June, spiking summer air with lemon zest,

and it’s all she can do to stop herself from hack-

ing them off. Colocasia esculenta

reach six feet high, huge elephant ear leaves straining

for the merest sound of weeping; Black Baccara

roses offer up their velvet petals. Draping

the casket of dark tropicals, Ipomoea

batatas does what vines do—cling, and strive to stay.





It’s raining again.

Her flowers are black shadows

gaining on the night.





Anna lives in the carriage house; the mansion she

keeps locked, electricity turned off years ago.

There’s wasted space in abundance, and the heavy

drapes are eye-lids shut against what light might winnow

through old growth bower. She would like to burn it down.

The charred remains would be a garden, too, blackened

beyond recognition; the ash—smoke-blown seed thrown

to the wind, just the sort of gift she’d wish to send

out beyond these acres. Haphazardness appeals

to her, in contrast to meticulous pruning

this world requires—unlike her dead husband’s zeal

for order, the careful figure he cut looming

over her days like an undertaker. Not death,

it wasn’t death. It couldn’t have been; it had breath.





Under the black heart,

she squabbles with a blackbird.

He pecks at the fruit.





Afternoon breezes shift; a scent of chocolate

wafts through window screens; Cosmos atrosanguineus

imparts its thoughtless seduction. Inanimate

as she’s become—Jillstraw of her manor—such fuss

and feathers are beyond her now; the futile work

of its maroon flower heads almost makes her grin.

She’s no fool and perfectly aware of what lurks

behind her desire for this cultivation.

For years she worried about eccentricity,

but later understood greenhouse cuttings, tubers,

the bulbs stored down in the root cellar—she could see

what she was doing was giving birth. Or rather,

what she was doing was enabling a garden’s

growth in all directions and asking no pardon.





It’s raining again.

Black tulip petals detach.

Black soil breaks them down.



From Domestic Garden (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015)













John Hoppenthaler’s books of poetry are Lives of Water (2003), Anticipate the Coming Reservoir (2008), andDomestic Garden (2015), all with Carnegie Mellon University Press. With Kazim Ali, he has co-edited a volume of essays and interviews on the poetry of Jean Valentine, This-World Company (U Michigan P, 2012). For the cultural journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, he edits “A Poetry Congeries. He is a Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at East Carolina University.  You can purchase his books of poetry here:

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