“A body that hungers is a body that hopes,” begins Kristene Kaye Brown’s “Why I Stopped Watering the Plants.” I believe, in this entrance to the poem, that hunger might be a kind of salvation. The speaker learns to cook what seemed inedible, flowers bloom like hellos, in the garden there is bigness and dreamy tomatoes. I trust this speaker, whose stubborn desire has brought them into the garden. But I already know, from the title, that the garden is a fleeting promise. As drought unfolds, the earth requires more than the speaker can give.
Though Brown’s poem is written in couplets, her use of spacing and indentation cultivates an organic form—albeit one beholden, like the speaker, to walls and absences. Internal spacing creates a sense of lapsing, the way summer heat can slow time. Indentation visually tugs the two lines of a couplet away from one another, mimicking the poem’s tensions:
“pulling the foundation away from the house.”
It is not unusual to read the garden as metaphor, so what allows Brown’s poem to stir new and arresting resonances? I’m struck by the emotional force of lines that emerge from within themselves: “It is in desperation that superstition grows. / And still the body thins and the earth // asks for more.” I am struck, also, by the function of the title as spoiler. I enter the poem already knowing the outcome. The speaker gives up, stops watering the plants. But I invest myself, anyway, in the speaker’s hunger, their tireless project, their desire for the beauty of the past to return—even though the speaker and I both know it is a lost cause. By the time the poem concludes on its dual note of resignation and longing, I, as reader, have been taken on the speaker’s same journey: from foolhardy hope to recognition of loss.
Why I Stopped Watering the Plants
A body that hungers is a body that hopes. This summer I learned to cook what I thought was inedible earth, stewed petunias, steamed sunflowers. Each bloom an edible hello. There is still so much bigness in the garden. A summer of drought and the stubborn tomatoes get dreamier by the day. All summer there has been a general sense of wind, but no real gusts. All summer there has been an invisible heat pulling the foundation away from the house. For hours I have stood watering stone walls. It is in desperation that superstition grows. And still the body thins and the earth asks for more. It is never enough. What I thought was devotion was nothing more than cracked dirt skimmed with seed. I’ve come to realize it’s resisting that erodes. This morning I watched the trees rally the wind as if stunned by the sky’s expanse. Air smelling of sage. And still, the memory of what used to be presses into me like a promise of rain that’s never coming back.