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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Perennial: A poem for Ryan on his birthday

tulip "How long have you been a writer?" someone recently asked me.

If you count the Sweet Valley High knockoff series my friend and I wrote in the fifth grade, I guess you can say it's been awhile.

I've become a writer for many different reasons, not least routine trips to the library growing up and the good fortune of having a writer father. I am grateful for a childhood filled with books and words and wordplay.

Recalling my journey, I began telling this practical stranger last weekend how my father always wrote a poem for my mother on the occasion of her birthday or their anniversary. He wrote in blank verse. The poems were short. Often, verbs would cascade in participle form — "loving, giving, helping," and I remember thinking he was pretty sly to give a poem rather than buy a gift. I imagined him dashing off the lines in the bathroom just before breakfast when he realized he'd forgotten the special day.

As a child, I didn't cherish how beautiful and tender those poems were. I thought flowers would have made the more thoughtful gift. I may have even, at times, considered him thoughtless to give something so seemingly easy.

But of course I don't see it that way now. And so I've written my own poem this year on the occasion of my husband's 41st birthday. I, too, have wanted him to know how much I love him. Perhaps he'll have wished for a new tennis racket or button-down shirt. Perhaps he'll think this poem a sly substitution. Perhaps he'll be sure I've cobbled together these lines in lieu of the card I usually forget to buy.

But words are what I can give best. And so this year, I want to give them to him.

The poem is short. There are no lists of verbs in participle form. In truth, I don't really know how to write a poem.

But he seemed worth the effort.

* * * * *


i bring home tomato plants in may, fall prey to the naiveté of yellow bloom. i promise to water but it's inattention i will pay, breaking promises and forcing drought. they'll die before july with the creep of neglect, begging for one delicious drink.

but your seed have i carried. your seed have i cultivated and borne. together, despite winters, we have resurrected twenty springs, and what can be lovelier than all that is perennial?

oh, for the grace of green-thumbery— given to tend for you one flowering lifetime.

to ryan, from jen april 30, 2015