Asparagus officinalis: Mannheim, 1956
(Mein eigner Garten 202-6)
“Bis Johanni nicht vergessen,
Sieben Wochen Spargel essen.”
(Asparagus Menu, Restaurant Reichskrone, Heidelberg 2014)
My mother holds the knife and trowel up for the camera.
Bell skirt, ponytail, sixteen,
her chiffon scarf a soft wish
to be in this new world.
She walks the beds.
Her brother is eating raspberries by the hedge.
Egyptians and Romans, the book says:
asparagus came up the Rhine
with Caesar’s legions and the eagle standard.
French poets and philosophers debated recipes
for centuries – “But the gardener doesn’t care
whether we eat it with our fingers at table
or spear it with our forks,
or cut off all the heads for our own plate
in delicious disregard for the feelings of others;
he contents himself with his asparagus cutter
and, of course, his skillful hands.”
Along the rows
they wait underground,
rising to the surface
like the unexploded ordinance from the war
revealed each spring
when farmers plow their fields
or children run on forest paths.
There is rubble still uncleared,
pockmarked façades of houses,
the streets and buildings grey all year
with smokestack soot and winter’s coal-dust
stories hushed of who was taken
and what exactly happened on the front,
the iron pins now stashed in desk drawers
uniforms still hanging
at the back of some old wardrobes.
Not Caesar’s legions now:
The army down the road
is from across the ocean.
The garden book advises us
on how to dig the trenches,
their proper orientation to the winds,
the placement of the roots at planting
(“This first asparagus shoot must be protected like a raw egg
and handled delicately, because the realization
of all of our future asparagus joys
is dependent on its welfare”),
the three-year cycle before first harvest,
and when to spread manure, potash, phosphate
after harvest’s done.
It teaches us to keep the earthen mounds well-heaped
for shoots that must not see the sun, well-covered.
My mother has weeded the beds
for five years now. She has cut her childhood braids.
knows it is dependent on her welfare?
Not a stalk has burst
full-fledged, pale shoots all; never to green
in springtime light, they grow below
like all the buried stories
and don’t burst up unbidden
as long as watchful eyes look every day.
The crop is good,
the garden nicely tended.
She digs and cuts and covers,
one stalk, and then another.