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American LIfe in Poetry: ‘Tender’

By Kwame Davis

By Kwame Davis

There is, in English poetry, a long tradition of gardening poems. Such poems find rich associations between the deliberate act of design, the organizing of nature, and the art of poetry. While Jeremy Rock’s, “Tender” does not slavishly echo the poetry of gardening of the seventeenth century (the hay-day of this tradition), one senses in his contemporary take, a recognition of the impulse of humans to see in gardening, something of the quest and delight in beauty that we find in poetry. At the end of the poem, Rock’s description of caring for tender plants that he renders as dreamers allows him to celebrate the deeply humanizing power of the imagination, the power, in other words, of poetry.


Not yet Spring, sunlight barely reaches

past the slider, so I array houseplants

like regents parading before the rabble

and lead with the blades. Just a few snips

before they’ re done, cleaned of the veins and petals

that looked ready to come off. It must always

be pruning season, looking at these hands. Sometimes

I sit in the sun with them and drink dayglow slow

with ice water. In red clay I keep the cuttings, sisters

and daughters mudded for new roots, and these

wan stems finally learn to breathe. If not

for the starving of idyllic hamlets, where

would the flowers grow? At night I bring them in

so they can imagine what they’re missing.

Poem copyright 2021 by Jeremy Rock, “Tender” from Poet Lore, Summer/Fall 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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