Planting in Pandemic Times

Planting a vegetable garden seems urgent this year.
I suppose it always has been.
But after weeks of walking lockstep with death, social distancing,
And pandemic statistics,
We think it wise to plant more than we did last year.

My favorite store’s garden display
Sits in the parking lot, where the early afternoon sun
Highlights the multitude of greens, pinks and blues
That pop up in rows of peat pots.

Lockstep indeed.
I forget how it feels to just be myself.
Until I see myself as one of many gardeners,
Roaming through the rows of potted herbs and vegetables.
Still maintaining a safe distance,
Face masks come off in the safety of outdoors.

I settle on basil and dill plants
And an assortment of vegetable seeds, for now.
In our backyard, amid half barrels and raised beds,
The trowel plunges into the soil.
It could be any spring, any year.
Our shih tzu watches with contagious joy,

Lockstep indeed.
My husband had read the news this morning:
The pandemic could last at least two years.

My thoughts return to the peat pots of basil.
Our dog has wandered to a sunnier spot.
I momentarily believe the smile in his eyes,
And put my faith in roots, shoots, soil microbes,
The giant walnut tree in the neighbors’ yard,
And the age-old hope of planting a vegetable garden.

Rhubarb Red

I thank God that the pandemic is in the spring —
As opposed to the winter, that is, in all its bleakness.
Winter just sulks in its grayness.
But spring is polite enough to give the illusion
Of new beginnings.

Take our rhubarb patch, for example —
An April harvest when it’s too early to plant!
Bright red stalks of sour goodness
Lift up wrinkly, oversized green leaves.

You can pull up the stalks as easy as pie,
Or cobbler, or chutney.
“Watch out for the leaves,” we warn little kids
Who’ve never seen rhubarb grow.
“They’re poisonous.”

Rhubarb red just may be my favorite color.
My first taste of the sour stalk took place in sixth grade,
When my friend Janine brought some to school.
Expecting something like celery,
I nearly cried at the first hair-raising bite,
But proudly hid my horror and chewed loudly.

Rhubarb red dyes the cutting board as I chop today’s harvest.
I place the pieces in freezer bags,
And take pictures for social media.

Relieved to have a harvest again,
I forget about daily reports
Of confirmed positive virus cases,
And remember what it was like
To buy sugar without wearing a mask.