Carrots are fucking
the earth. A permanent
erection, they push deeper
into the damp and dark.
All summer long
they try so hard to please.
Was it good for you,
was it good?
Perhaps because the earth won’t answer
they keep on trying.
While you stroll through the garden
thinking carrot cake,
carrots and onions in beef stew,
carrot pudding with caramel sauce,
they are fucking their brains out
in the hottest part of the afternoon.
from “The Sex Lives of Vegetables,” The Garden Going On Without Us
Yesterday was what would have been my mother’s sixty-sixth birthday. It was the second birthday from which she was absent, after her death. Last year on the fifteenth we held a belated memorial tea in her hometown, because no one wants to travel to Manitoba in January when it is minus thirty degrees Celsius, no matter how gorgeous the aurora. Even though, of course, I did travel there, to pack up her apartment, scour the oven, and make other necessary arrangements.
It still feels too early to talk easily about any of this much, even as I note with surprise that many months have elapsed between her death and the present. I was so glad when a year had passed, a year that overlapped almost exactly with my daughter’s first year, because it was over. It was no longer the year that my mother died, and I was still a person who could function, more or less, most of the time. Grief and motherhood hadn’t wasted me completely, though I felt and still feel rather crumpled, like a rescued draft of something regrettably discarded.
Grief of this magnitude is a strange pain. The experience of it is akin to having a chronic low-grade medical condition with occasional flare-ups. It is malarial, myalgic, triggered by the ridiculous and the well-meaning. I felt disproportionately sad in the lead-up to Mothers’ Day this year. Disproportionate, because we never went overboard with it; my mother usually requested something simple like a hanging basket of flowers, new gardening gloves, or a morning’s labour in the yard, helping to get my parents’ large vegetable garden ready for the late-spring planting.
My mother was nothing if not frugal, and between her aversion to consumerism and her devotion to the public library, we didn’t own a huge number of books when I was small. There was one well-stocked shelf of children’s books under her hi-fi, but the few grown-up novels and poetry she had were mostly Christmas gifts from her aunt, a librarian. I don’t know where her copy of The Garden Going On Without Us came from; I can’t imagine my great-aunt buying it, even if she was the Person Most Likely To Have Read Lorna Crozier in our family. I suspect it might be inscribed, but I can’t confirm this because it’s in storage.
What I do remember is overhearing a conversation between my mother and a neighbour about this sequence of poems. I must have been around ten, old enough to have an interest in bad language and dirty words in books. I can remember, vaguely, my mother reading or quoting from this specific poem, laughing so hard she could barely stand, because there was nothing she liked better as a gardener and an extrovert — and really as a woman — than a good, joyful dirty joke. And I remember pulling this book off the shelf furtively and alone, looking for the humour, accepting that for the moment, it lay outside of my sphere. As I look, now, for reason in her absence, and do not see it. Not yet.