Minnesota Poetry: Leslie Adrienne Miller’s “The Dead Send Their Gardener”

Leslie Adrienne Miller has published several books of poetry, including “Eat Quite Everything You See” and “The Resurrection Trade.” A professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, Miller combines old world imagery and academia with modern day sensibilities and earthly desires. Her poem “The Dead Send Their Gardener” struck me in particular because of the contrast between the extremely “alive” gardener, and the ghostly presence of the couple whose roses he tends.

The Dead Send Their Gardener

He arrives in the courtyard with two cartons

of juice, each of which he’ll tip and drain

at one go in the heat, and a sack of food

for the roses. He looms over his tools,

blond and dusty as a stalk of ripe wheat,

surely someone’s prized lover. Centuries

bask among his hybrid teas, and he shakes

his capable handfuls of food into their beds

until nothing but roses nose the blues between lake

and garden, lake and sky, the lapse of lawn

where a party could be if those who lived here once

returned to pour the wine. She’d be the sort

to tuck a bud behind her ear, and he to catch

one in his teeth. But alas we’re guests

of the present, expectant and sultry; all

graciousness is fled, and rain fills the spent

blooms, tumbles their tops, weighted with ruffles

and shocks of pink. The gardener too disappears

with his breeches the color of mustard and cinched

with a string, gone back into the pages of Hardy

or Lawrence. Perhaps, he’ll appear again Tuesday next,

but he won’t look any of us living in the eye.

– “The Dead Send Their Gardener” by Leslie Adrienne Miller, as it appears in The Resurrection Trade. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher, Graywolf Press.