Monday, April 14

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, April 14, 2014 6 comments

By Scott Cairns (1954— )

A little loam and topsoil 
is a lot. 
—Heather McHugh

Photo credit: ronmerk from 

A vacant lot, maybe, but even such lit vacancy
as interstate motels announce can look, well, pretty
damned inviting after a long day’s drive, especially
if the day has been oppressed by manic truckers, detours,
endless road construction. And this poorly measured, semi-
rectangle, projected and plotted with the familiar
little flags upon a spread of neglected terra firma
also offers brief apprehension, which—let’s face it,
whether pleasing or encumbered by anxiety—dwells
luxuriously in potential. Me? Well, I like
a little space between shopping malls, and while this one may
never come to be much of a garden, once we rip
the old tires from the brambles and bag the trash, we might
just glimpse the lot we meant, the lot we hoped to find.

Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press, 2002)

As a country girl who has put down roots in an urban area, this piece resonates with me. Even a small patch of nature "dwells luxuriously in potential" --potential to bring a bit of beauty and respite for the weary, nature-hungry soul. I like that Cairns uses poetry to look past the now of "old tires," "brambles" and "trash" to see a glimpse of possible garden space. The transformative power of the imagination makes a little patch of littered land into "a lot"--in more sense than one, encouraging the reader to expand application to other wrecked spaces, be they landscapes or relationships.

What lines or images stand out to you?

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  1. This line really spoke to me: as interstate motels announce can look .... Interesting. The piece is very visual.

    1. Any vacancy can feel like an oasis at certain times, can't it? Thanks for visiting!

  2. Well, I like a litte space between shopping malls

    So do I. Green is beautiful. I would be quite depressed to live in an area without anything growing.

    1. Even a little green space can be "a lot"! :-)

      I'm so with you on needing green. It made urban house hunting a bit of a challenge, but we found a place with miles of woods at one end of the street and a train station, bus depot and movie theater at the other.

  3. A little bit of garden space invites the mind and imagination to rest. :) Thanks for sharing this today.

    1. What I like about this is Cairns's determination to hunt out even a little rectangle of green. That urge speaks to life more generally, I think: seek and build oases, even in unexpected places.