It would be easier to have two or three — one for backpack, for purse, for desk. But it’s not the kind that comes several to a package from a big-box store. I spent time choosing it, and I want to commit to it, to trust that it will always eventually turn up. This Pentel GraphGear 500 drafting pencil, with a 0.3 size lead, came from Dick Blick, not the arts supply website but a literal brick-and-mortar store in Dublin, Ohio, where my brother lives.
I was in Dublin last week to spend some time with a nephew who is moving to Florida for a teaching job, to see him off yesterday morning with an auntly note (is there a female equivalent of “avuncular?”) and some crisp bills and my first hug in four and a half months. Tonight I am sitting in my friend Sally’s backyard, in a black metal chair with turquoise mesh seating and, under my left thigh, a slight tear that I don’t want to lengthen. In May, Sally offered me a fallow square of her backyard garden, maybe 6 feet by 6 feet. I thought about it and said yes.
So far the garden has been part joy and part heartache. A bird dive-bombed my one coreopsis and broke a bunch of the slender flower stalks; I suspect a deer hoof has trampled it more. Now it’s protected by a yellow powder-coated tomato cage, which no longer needs to protect the yellow pear tomatoes that a groundhog probably ate. Something has nibbled all the globe amaranth except two burnt orange blossoms. Something has munched on the coleus and the pole beans. But the mint is holding its own, and the arugula I planted six days ago is coming up — a strip of dicotyledons that I do not have the heart to thin. Maybe a rabbit who knows how to share will do that for me.
That postage stamp of garden is on my left. Beneath me is a larger postage stamp of bricks. When I started pulling weeds and grass to bare the soil, I found a border of bricks, which turned out to be the edge of a hidden patio. So in my evening visits, I alternate between tending the garden and clearing the grass, dirt, stubby shrubs and decomposing straw bales to reach the evidence of a previous civilization. I save the artifacts I find — Nerf darts, a once pink shovel, a small plastic skeleton, two screwdrivers, a LEGO brick, red Barbie-sized sunglasses, the eraser half of a broken pencil.
The deer do not thwart the excavation. When I tire of bending over, when something within says “enough for today,” I drag the garden hose to my lot. Brown the gray soil with the hose wand’s MIST setting. Turn it to BUCKET FILL with the strength turned down low to soak the area around each plant. Finally, turn the hose to POWER WASH and blast the dirt from the newly exposed bricks.
This is a place to breathe, to sit with a book of poetry, unopened. Whatever anxieties have beset me throughout the day, it turns out I have what I need to breathe in for 10 seconds, pause, and breathe out for 10 more.
The crosshatched steel grip of my pencil has a metallic smell, and also a scent that must be mine, the oils of my fingertips. The center of the pen is not its center of gravity. That is on the maroon plastic barrel a quarter inch from where it enters the grip. My pencil doesn’t know what it is doing in a garden, with nothing to write on but the pages of this book of poetry that it has touched in years past. It makes no marks tonight. It simply balances on my outstretched finger as lightning bugs encircle us, its point shivering like the arrow in a compass, not knowing which way is north but willing to help point me in a true direction.
Photo by Matthias Ripp, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Laura Lynn Brown.