Monkeying around, I do things with words. Two larvae-covered horned caterpillars appear among the tomatoes. Sarah and her sister determine them to be pests and urge me to relocate them away from the garden, so I do.
I know what you’re thinking, says the Narrator: Can I trust an author who calls one of his characters “The Gay Wizard”? I use that name not to offend, but because that was how he was known about town.
People knew the Gay Wizard. He was a local personality, a figure in the community. I remember Sarah and I speaking to our neighbor Sue one afternoon. Sue lived up the street from us, in a cream-colored home. Ferns hung in baskets from her porch. By the time we met her, Sue was already decades into her time on Shady. She spoke fondly of the wizard: his parties, his Studebaker, his boat.
Atop skeletal details of that sort, gathered haphazardly in the course of my tenancy, I crafted a character: someone I fancied meeting one day via time machine. Like an egregore of sorts, he entered first into my imaginings via the spirit of books of an earlier era. The books started turning up in the bins at Goodwill, as if he’d sent them: rare, obscure screeds like Arthur Evans’s Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture and Mitch Walker’s Visionary Love: A Spirit Book of Gay Mythology and Trans-mutational Faerie. From them and others like them I culled a portrait of a loving psychedelic animist: a gardener like Derek Jarman. That’s how I see him now, in fact: poised there in the sunlit grove at the center of the home’s back yard, spade in hand amid the growth of his garden.
In picturing him thus, I resist the story’s pull toward horror. If this were a work of horror, notes the Narrator, he’d have been a shadier dude. Play the horror factor one way, and he’d have been a Crowleyan sex magician. A Thelemite; a Satanist: a practitioner of black magic. Play it another way, as might, say, Jordan Peele or P. Djèlí Clark, and he’d have been a wizard of an even deadlier sort: the kind who go around in white, terrorizing people of color.
If he’s ours to imagine, says the Narrator, let us imagine him otherwise. In our choosing of genre, let us act with hope.
“I love the future when I water my garden,” muses the Traveler, hose in hand.
Robin Wall Kimmerer teaches of the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. Planted together in early May, these three veggies grow well in close proximity and form the core of indigenous agriculture.
“I continue to love it. I continue to long for it and lean toward it,” admits the Traveler. “I welcome it without apology, despite what comes to pass.”
“Mmmm,” replies the Narrator, savoring the taste of a tomato. “As do I.”
“I love it and open myself toward it,” continues the Traveler, eyes closed, recalling futures past, “as when I open my heart and mind to the sounds of Sons of Kemet’s Black to the Future and Emma-Jean Thackray’s Yellow.”
Narrator places an arm ’round Traveler’s shoulders, leans close and whispers Prufrock-style, “Let us go then, you and I.” He smiles, pats the Traveler’s shoulder, and steps away. “But first, another of these lovely tomatoes.”
Wake up, little bunnies! Mr. Gloom, be on your way! Beaches, pools, campgrounds: ’tis time to have fun. Picture the garden as it ripens. Imagine those tasty veggies, those delicious leaves of lettuce. There are reasons for our bellies to feel full again. Pizzas and milkshakes in New York; salads here at home. Meals will become again things we savor. We’ll go motorboating; we’ll become godparents (ceremony in a church — the whole bit). When I wake each morning, it will be to the light of the sun as it shines on the roof of my tent.
The pool’s not been what I’d hoped. This is one of the ways that Mercury Retrograde has manifested locally of late, prompting in me a sense of frustration and postponement, despite my knowing that we’ve performed our planting ritual, seeds and seedlings are in the ground, things are growing. Similar processes are afoot intellectually as I continue my wanderings. In my readings, I’ve been moving crabwise among many books at once. Robin D.G. Kelley keeps it surreal with his book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Thelonious Monk appears near the book’s finale. Kelley went on to write a book on Monk. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Thumbing through the latter book’s index, I land upon “Monk, Thelonious: drugs taken by,” hoping to encounter word of Monk’s relationship to psychedelics, as he’s known to have done mushrooms with Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. Monk came to the psychedelic sacrament a seasoned pro. Reports suggest he was unimpressed. Monk had been arrested years prior for marijuana possession. Police rolled up on him after a Sunday night gig in June 1948. He liked to smoke reefer when he played, and other players in his groups relied on drugs and alcohol to keep up. The meeting with Leary occurred in January 1961. Three years later, Monk appeared on the cover of the February 28, 1964 edition of Time magazine. The cover story’s author Barry Farrell wrote, “Every day is a brand-new pharmaceutical event for Monk: alcohol, Dexedrine, sleeping potions, whatever is at hand, charge through his bloodstream in baffling combinations.”
We buy varieties of veggies and herbs plus a blackberry bush and a fig tree from a local nursery. Seedlings, mostly, though also some packets of seed. With a bit of digging, we plant these. With a bit more, I unearth several classic Blue Note jazz LPs on CD in the bins at Goodwill: Sonny Rollins’s A Night at the Village Vanguard, Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones, and John Coltrane and the Thelonious Monk Quartet’s Live at the Five Spot: Discovery! Welcome additions, all.
“Planning” rather than “policy.” Planning is people power. All of us can plan. Fred Moten and Stefano Harney draw this distinction in their book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Planning means learning about vegetables that grow in heat, as we’re planting late here at the start of June. Sweet potatoes, peppers, sunflowers. Zucchini and summer squash. Okra, green beans, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, mustard greens, spinach, corn, and Swiss chard. Other vegetables will fare best if we plant them later, at summer’s end. Radishes, for instance. Carrots.
“For my next act” I think as I stare at trees, their upper branches bathed in the orange light of the setting sun. I feel like a magician having built boxes, four wooden raised beds, conjured them in the midst of a field of clover here in the yard behind our home. In these beds, we’ll plant our garden. Yet the utopian in me (or the Faust in me? the Gnostic in me? the “slow sick sucking part of me”? same difference?) is already restless, ready to set sail (as per Wilde), ready to walk away (as per Le Guin), wishing for something other than what is here, wanting in its stead some other bower of bliss (this not that): a vertical garden, say, in the midst of a food forest.
Today’s therapy involves observing the sun’s movement in the sky, plotting out raised garden beds, measuring them, marking their perimeters with stakes and mason line. I break ground with a four-pronged hand tiller, turn up the soil, pull out clumps of grass and clover. It’s happening: we’re building our garden.
With end of semester nearing (another day or so of grading and that’ll be that), I acquire tools and prepare for summer. Gardeners needn’t be “tool freaks” like the Whole Earthers — but they do need tools. Garden tools: “objects of both practicality and great beauty,” as Derek Jarman notes. Shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows: these are all “means of production.” Tools both for planting flowers and vegetables and for removing grasses and weeds. Frankie digs beside us as we work. With help from Sarah’s parents, we replant beds around the base of the house. The work we do now opens new avenues of thought, new spaces of possibility featuring rocks and stones. Before I know it, I find myself in the know again about Sakuteiki, the oldest published Japanese text on garden-making, written in the mid-to-late 11th century, when the placing of stones was gardening’s essence.