Repotting Abutilon is probably the hardest poem I’ve written. Not just for the emotional content, but also for the difficult structure I used. It’s not sestina difficult, but I rarely use rhyme or metre, so setting myself this metre – based on prime numbers – and rhyming scheme made things difficult. But I wanted the structural difficulty to match the difficult content.
Re-potting Abutilon in the Summer of 2004
Not neglected, but this past season not well cared for,
so their roots which, planted and then left alone
a few years to spread, to grow and to explore,
might have displaced or, helped by ice, even split some stone,
are knotted tight as amateur philosophy,
and thus, pot-bound with ropy roots, they come to me.
I work quietly. A finger here, a thumb placed there,
I work to pry loose the tight-woven tangle
as gently as once I’d have a lover’s hair.
But now I see it is no use; there is no angle
to admit these hands. Far too dense and thick a mess,
These roots are old, and will not yield to tenderness.
I know what is required –the plant will soon forgive.
And so, with sharp red lock-knife and two bare hands,
with un-sung strength a man’s gentleness can give,
I cut and tear away the spiralling matted bands.
I know the plant will live, and even grow well-formed
for this rough surgery that I have now performed.
But after two or three like these,
I find that, as I think of you,
I have to weep upon my knees
for seeing what I have to do.