Jane McKinley: The Closed Door

For years I’ve kept my study door closed,
prompting close friends to speculate
about what I might be hiding. M imagined
hanging gardens, so I ordered a postcard
on eBay of the famous ones in Babylon.
It hangs on the wall with a photo M took
in 2001 of pack ice in the polar sea.
The gardens, the pack ice, and M—all gone.

I told my friend C that when my study
was organized, I’d send him an invitation
to the champagne grand opening.
He was very ill at the time, said,
I don’t think I’ll live that long. He didn’t.
The apothecary jar he gave me sits here
on my desk: Petruchio’s Pills, for sharp
tongues, shrewish tempers & curmudgeonry.

I’d always envisioned those gardens
as something ethereal, suspended in air
by vines with chains of Spanish moss,
but according to Diodorus, the walls
were 22 feet thick and made of mud brick.
The gardens, if they existed at all, were tiered,
each tier deep enough for the roots
of large trees—cedar, cypress, willow, oak.

It seems something got lost in translation.
The plants weren’t hanging, but overhanging,
suspended over arches, draped over walls,
sustained by a system of reeds and stone
that pumped desert water five stories high,
so the lush green would cascade to tiers below,
the way a dream can hang over the morning,
casting a shadow—an unexpected chill.

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