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The Poetics of Garlic

Gary Miller

Gary Lee Miller photo

Gary Lee Miller photo

When it came to our garlic, we tried everything. We tested the soil through the cooperative extension, and amended it to adjust the pH and mineral content. We added compost and even tried planting it in different beds. In moments of madness, I talked to it. But still, at its best, the garlic didn’t make the grade. A third of the plants barely grew at all; the others produced, but the cloves were small and hardly worth the effort. Now we were at the decision point: should we give up and plant perennials? Or should we try garlic for one more season? We decided on one last go at garlic. But we needed a game changer, so I did what any sensible farmer would do: I hired a poet.

I should be clear that employing a poet to solve our garlic problem hadn’t occurred to me prior to last Saturday. But when we walked into the Montpelier farmers’ market that morning, there sat Kevin Thorne behind his tiny folding table, mustard-colored manual typewriter at the ready. Discrete inquiries at nearby market stalls revealed that Kevin’s talents extended beyond the iambic; he’d been recently hired on to pick the fall crop at Dog River Farm. It was perfect.

As Kevin tended to his other customers, Deb and I shopped. We got some great last-of-the-season tomatoes from High Ledge Farm, some delicata squash from Alen LePage, some beef short ribs from Rocio at Applecheek Farm, and (Ta-Dah!) some big, robust seed garlic from Highland Gardens. Now was the time to make my move.

I approached the Poet for Hire, who turned out to be an extremely friendly gent, and discussed the possibility of a commissioned work. Could he, I wondered, write something to encourage our garlic to do better this year? In fact, he could, and as I waited patiently, he composed the following ode to Russian red garlic:

For Gary’s Garlic  

by Kevin Thorne

do you dream of russia,

 in October, the cold

    soil heaped over you or

    up to your chin under

         covers in your bed,

    do you dream of your allicin

        bucking in your cells

    whatever secret chemistries

 make you red? this is

your song, though you know it well

i sing it as a reminder

   scissors and twine, a primitive spell

to bring you out of the earth

   where planted you remain

stuck in your far away dreams

   not to break the soil

with your hollowed and green

       stalk; here is the secret

       you are home now, love the

   minerals about you and take them

       under your cellophane skin

             paint the earth red

             as russian felt

             let us see the dreamer within.


Do you hear that, garlic? Your bed is made, and it’s getting colder. It’s time to go underground, and dream of spring.