The Garden

by rob mclennan

My little sentences have gotten under their skin.
Gertrude Stein

He measured his days out in rows of pulled, purchased earth.
David studied his garden. The worst summer in decades, the driest the valley had seen. He fought a heroic battle against weather, the passage of time. What the squirrels hadn’t dug up, destroyed or outright stolen, had withered.

The gutters like margins. A layer of dust.

The plants on the back deck opposite his grew higher, greener, lush. He wondered: was it the lack of deck covering, allowing more sun? Did his neighbour water her plants more often? Did she know how to coax, to grow deeper through preening or chemical encouragements? Did she, unlike him, simply know what she was doing?

He sat in his one comfortable deck chair, reading a book on the Battle of New Orleans. On page fifty, the British raged; on page seventy-three, Andrew Jackson raged. Everyone raged.

The rain came, and the water boiled.

David, rainless. He sat in his deck chair, and imagined his neighbour gardening, perhaps in the
nude. He wondered what she might look like naked. Perhaps much like every other woman he’d known.

There was a time, David knew, the world hung upside-down. After the towers, imagining men that no longer fell, but held, in mid-air. There should be no more falling. Nor could there be. All that had already landed.

Madness overwhelms, yet reason is lighter. Returns to the surface. Does this make him an optimist, or something else?

The apartment was stuffy, impossible to breathe. At least outside, the pretence of breeze. So hot so hot so very hot. The barometer rattled.

Moisture left his body, and evaporated.

David studied the sky. It was entirely cloudless, a deep baby-blue.


In the deep July midday heat, David aimed his trek to front door to the mailman’s arrival, and discovered a small sleeping bat in the hallway, beneath the landlord’s mailbox. The spring bats only learning to fly, disoriented, seeking out the cool places. David retrieved his gardening gloves, gently lifted the furry bundle, set it loose in the yard. It released a couple of chirps and flapped off, swallowed by neighbouring maples.

The following morning, the newspaper reported on the influx of bats, distracted by the extreme heat, ending up in unusual places. They might enter your house. A photograph graced the cover of the Ottawa Sun of the “flying fox,” a tropical fruit-eating variety. A far more frightening looking image than the meek Canadian mouse with wings.

Why would the paper depict this, a creature impossible here? Did the lie of the fruit-bat seem more sensational?

Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.


From his shaded perch, he could make out tattoos of small birds down the length of her left arm as she gathered ripe baby tomatoes. Her long straight hair strayed in the breeze.
She was distant, close. He suspected this might have been the allure.
He picked a snow pea and bit, let flesh crunch between molars. He preferred the raw scent and taste.

A quote from Gertrude Stein, that she wrote for herself and for strangers. David wondered if he might be one of those strangers.


Apparently some hereto-unseen writings by Marilyn Monroe had recently surfaced, including the revelations of her literary aspirations. What might they have found? Unexpected, but hardly a shock. The newspaper columnist’s barely-held gasp.

How could anyone be surprised? After all, she married a playwright.

But the argument fails, holds no water. Do we know if she ever wanted to play professional baseball as well?

Memory cares not what it gives back, or covets. In the end, Marilyn left.

There was no water anywhere.

He refolds his finished newspaper. Inside, his third-story steam-bath, twenty degrees hotter inside than out.

Half his closet was bare. Between half and two-thirds.

Beware celebrity, he warned himself. The nights now see so few stars for the proliferation of dim-witted light. The pollution of bulbs.


David watered his plants, filled lime-green watering can deep from the bathtub faucet. At least the water advisory hadn’t yet reached them.

If Billy has three tomatoes, and Sally gives him two more, how many tomatoes will Billy have?
This is why school texts use apples, instead. Billy couldn’t care less. The recent internet meme that asks, If Billy has fifteen chocolate bars and eats eight, what does Billy have left? Diabetes, the answer. Diabetes.

In his deck-garden, David’s plastic plant-holders clay-coloured, allowing the appearance of classical weight.

Snow peas, lavender, beets, parsley, tomatoes. The black squirrels had dug up his bulbs, leaving scraped-empty pots. They even pulled up the poisonous ones, tearing debris to shreds.

And he wonders: given they chewed through a poisonous bulb, is it wrong to have expected them dead? Must the punishment always fit the crime?

About the author

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour.


His most recent poetry titles include A halt, which is empty (Mansfield Press, 2019) and Life sentence, (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019).


An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (, Touch the Donkey ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (


He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, editor of my (small press) writing day, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at