The Garden by Steve McDonald

Golden Shovel after Emily Dickinson
The body is on its knees apparently
gardening is something like prayer as if with
reverence the body bends over the soil where no
plants have survived so far it says surprise
me a dwarf palm lifts its fronds as if to
bless the arc of its lowest leaves brushing the body any
life is nevertheless life and the body is happy
to kneel here to lift a flower
from its plastic pot with this small golden shovel the
blade of it clearing the ground the way the unexpected frost
clears the late summer garden beheads
the blooms of the world sometimes it
seems as if the kneeling and the planting are at
very best just a dream unraveling in its
dreaming today the hands play
around the edges of something hard and round in
the bottom of the hole something accidental
a calcified potato or maybe a child’s toy power
resides in the smallest of things even in the
uneven curving of this knobby dirt-blonde
is it an eye socket buried here by life’s assassin
a child’s small dog and the body passes
its fingertips over the tiny sharp teeth on
display in the back of the jaw over the
ridge in the skull that once slept under the sun
young fingers stroking its fur and the body proceeds
to brush dirt from bone as if unmoved
as if the stone of this skull had yet to
remind it of its own mortality the body’s measure
of life so common and ordinary so off
the top of the head still another
year passes and the little dog’s skull one day
sits on a rock in the back of the garden for
the body has recalled its own loss an
inconsolable emptiness in the face of life’s approving
nod to whatever brings comfort like some kind of god

Steve McDonald has published two full-length books of poetry and two chapbooks. Credo, his second book, was a finalist in the 2016 Brick Road Poetry Competition, and Golden Fish / Dark Pond, his second chapbook, won the 2014 Comstock Review Chapbook contest. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he has awards from Tupelo Press, Tiferet, Nimrod, Beyond Baroque, Tor House, Passager, Sow’s Ear, and others, including Best New Poets. His poetry has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Boulevard, Rhino, Nimrod, The Atlanta Review, RATTLE, The Crab Creek Review, The Paterson Literary Review, Spillway, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife, Marlyle, in Murrieta, California, and can be contacted at