Jerry Portwood :: “Stolen gardens”

The cracked husks of burnt-out houses are the 
best place to find the bright live ones.
Drive down and see the swaying, heavy heads of daffodils,
little, defiant jonquils among
the crumbling windows, black ash bricks.
You point out lily of the valley, purple iris, 
pink hyacinth and muscari
growing in large clumps beside melted mortar—
huddled together, forgotten.

Too poor to buy bulbs and rhizomes,
You teach me how to covet these almost-wild things;
we feel like plundering pirates
as we dig them from under the moldy pecans.
Leaning down low on the trowel
my nose crouched in buttery trumpets,
Some with ruffled centers,
smelling their touch.
Flowers sweet and almost sick,
making my throat cluck and suck.

“These trees smell like cum,” you say 
about the flowering pear,
and I blush, recall thick dishwasher steam— 
which makes me wonder
if Mom knows that I know
the smell of sex;
its sweet breath of bleach—
as I choke and swallow shame.

But before we take the bulbs home and soak the 
papery skins, rake leaves away,
stretch back the frozen red Georgia clay
to create a new plot together from stolen gardens—
we park behind the abandoned trailer 
hidden a mile from home.
Your big black Pontiac hulks there,
shaking our smoky breath into patterns.

I pull down our pants, sweat through the windows
as you open me up on my stomach
remember to breathe in the pain,
dizzy from the cloying scent of daffodils beside me.
Grit my jaw and squint my eyes,
I see their happy faces limp, sacks of 
long green stalks and bulbs laid bare,
and long to mingle with them;
eager and innocent with life,
turn away as you thrust and grunt
to listen as they thrive.


Jerry Portwood is a queer writer and former editor at Rolling Stone, Out magazine, and New York Press. He teaches courses on writing at the New School and lives in both West Harlem in New York City and Cambridge, Mass. with his husband.