Landscaping with Canaries
Prune the roses liberally. Burn the dead wood. Plant the new one near the boulder that you could never budge—where she always stopped to rest. Believe she is there now. Pat the earth around the base of the rose. Look at the sun just over the horizon, lifting through the sky. Angle the bill of your hat to shade your eyes. Hoe up the weeds from around the rest of the roses. Slice down. Dig deep for the dandelion roots; don't bring the hoe too close to the roses. Rub the dirt on your jeans.
Move to the empty vegetable patch. Turn the soil. Separate the weeds. Pile the stones next to you, the pebbles readied for plunking in the river. Save them for later. Concentrate on the vegetable patch. Once the ground is turned, the stones set in a pile, and the young weeds are dehydrating in the sun, rake the soil smooth, mixing in plenty of compost. Divide the garden with string in rectangular sections. Plan out where you will put the broccoli, the carrots, the tomatoes, the chili peppers, the eggplant, the corn, the shoebox of dead canaries in your freezer. Feel your stomach drop. Feel remorse. Remember last year. How many did she have? Ten? Twenty? A thousand? Remember how they sang a cappella in the window. They could sing anything. They took requests. The two of you sang along. Remember how the two of you laughed, how the pile of plunking stones was taller.
Wipe the sweat off your forehead with the back of your wrist. Adjust your hat again. Open the seed packets. See how deep they need to be planted. Poke your finger into the crumbly earth. Drop in a pea. Repeat. Move on to the corn, the big rectangle to the back of the garden near the old, giant elm in the neighbor's yard. Worry whether the corn will get enough sun. Think how deep you will have to bury the canaries so they won't smell, so coyotes, raccoons, stray dogs won't root them out. Sit on the boulder. Drink water from the river caught in your glass. Lean on your knees. Take a deep breath. Wonder why you are doing this. Wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just buy vegetables from the grocery. If it wouldn't be easier to throw the canaries in the trash. To forget. Miss their song. Cry, if you want. Don't cry too long. Get the garden finished, then cry forever if you want.
Put in the beans. Put in the lettuce, the seeds so tiny. Get out the hose. Spray the garden with water pumped from the river. Listen to the birds courting in the trees—the cardinals, the starlings, the finches. Dig a hole next to the boulder before you put the tools away. No, dig a thousand holes all over the yard. Make sure one is near the river. Take off your hat. Shower. Scrape the dirt from your fingernails. Dress in black if you want. Pull the box from the freezer. Sing something sorrowful. Plant the canaries around the yard. Grow canary trees; grow flocks of canaries. Imagine them out in the world singing. Watch the sun set. Carry the rocks and the last bird in a pail to the bank where the vetch greens. Take your time. Lay in the canary. Fill the hole. Wade into the cold water. The first stone is for her. The second for song. The rest are for you. Never forget.
Make the river rise.