The Garden

— Vuong Vu

A strange place, a garden
so old it seemed to exist outside of time.

     —Brigit Pegeen Kelly, “Black Swan”

The garden was on a mountainside,
an orchard that stood above the clouds.
The garden was surrounded by iron gates,
the iron rods thick and black.
A soldier found the garden in war.
He climbed its gates to drink from a well,
which stained his hands gray and black.
He dropped stones into it and waited,
but could not hear water or echoes,
so those stones he imagined falling forever.
 From the orchard, emerged an old woman
who told the soldier the well was empty, empty for ages.
“Follow me if you are thirsty” she told him
and he followed into the garden.
She led him deeper into the orchard,
her garden growing more strange,
more primordial, and the woman herself was so old
she seemed to exist outside of time.
 In the middle of the garden was a clearing,
and there, a well and a wall, covered with roses.
She dipped her hands into the well
and offered the soldier its water, cold
and blue, and tasting like the minerals of bones.
The old woman asked him to stay for as long as he wanted,
but he told her he had to return to war.
“Your wars and your warring ways,”
she sighed, “O, poor noble human,
I have lived long enough to know
it is not fire that builds cities.
I have lived long enough to know
the most extraordinary thing
you can ever do is to fall in love.”
And at this, a hole welled in his heart
so deep he could not reach it.
He sat with her quite and sullen and fell asleep,
and woke up in the company of other soldiers,
and war all around him, and that garden so far away.
But the soldier’s hands were still stained gray and black
from the iron gates, and the old woman’s words
in him, and that hole was still in his heart,
endlessly and endlessly deep.

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