Two Cuttings from Central Park

Aaron Poochigian |

An excerpt from Aaron Poochigian's contemporary didactic epic, Central Park.

Central Park, the lungs of New York City.

(You can read the author's introductory reflection on didactic epic, "The Entrancing Way to Learn," here.)

The Germination

When I was just a baby in Manhattan
forever running from a mind abuzz
with bumblebees of doubt and wasps of debt,
and all I had was I loved reading Latin,
I wandered for a while behind the Met,
then sat, legs crossed, among magnolias.
No future nursed me. Dearth was all there was.
If New York City were a competition
to take some trophy, then I wasn’t winning.

So, to forget my ranking in the race,
I started mumble-reading the beginning
of Vergil’s Georgics in a smirched edition:
Quid faciat laetas segetes
a breedy little koan meaning both
“What makes crops happy?” and “What makes crops thrive?”

That time a shudder of abrupt fruition
surged from the phonemes. Vision came alive.
Glamor was in the leaves and undergrowth,
and I could feel the mental lightning strobe
groundlessly as it leapt from lobe to lobe.

What has redeemed me is an inner oath
to make a garden of that revelation,
to do now what Vergilius had done
for Romans, out of love for Central Park.
This fire of ours was kindled by that spark.

While strolling home that evening, I was one
among the happy, blazing vegetation.

The Conservatory Gardens

Passing between custodial oaks, we enter
the posh Conservatory Garden which
exhibits three distinctive national styles:
here on the north side, the fastidious French;
symmetrical Italian in the center;
tousled English to the south.

                                                   As we
meander inward through concentric aisles
and walk down flights of granite steps, we see
no leafy arbor, no shade tree, no bench,
just rotund shrubs and rounded little lawns
that ring a fountain ringed in by the bronze
“Three Dancing Maidens.” Holding hands, the girls
saltate and circle as the jet unfurls
élan between them.

                                If we could just dive
into the pool, climb up and join them there
in bronze, we would forever be alive
the breathless way ecstatic artworks live.

Leaving the spheres of that système solaire,
we cross into a quad evocative
of dons and doges: promenades, a lawn
restrained on all four sides by well-clipped yew.
This is the lordly sort of Xanadu.
A geyser iridescent as chiffon
rises and falls as mist between two rows
of rainberry. The pergola that stands
behind it wears wisteria which, in May,
bursts into purples, mauves and indigoes.
West of it one big sycamore commands
a steep escarpment.

                                            Every Saturday
in summer rented limos tagged “Just Married”
pull up and park on Fifth, and brides and grooms,
whole wedding parties, traipse in here and pose
for photos. I have never tied the knot,
but Paolo and Francesca would have tarried
to sigh, touch, kiss and more in such a spot
(if they had not gone, young, to sundered tombs),
and that’s excuse enough. I understand.

The final paradise, if not as grand,
is freer, more spontaneous, more varied.
Flowers abound here, rambling bands of blooms
for every season. (Now, in June, it’s phlox,
peonies, baby’s breath and hollyhocks.)
Here also, in what seems an arbitrary
arrangement, trees give refuge from the sun.
For me, they conjure up a legendary
English forest, Sherwood, say, or Arden,
where good guys, temporarily on the run,
prevail in exile, and the baddies get
their lumps of shame.

                               The statues in the pool
commemorate in art Frances Burnett,
who wrote the children’s book “The Secret Garden:”
a girl sustains a birdbath, while a boy
plays flute forever. At their feet, a school
of sunburst-red and rainbow-colored koi
idles at random under lotus flowers
and lily pads.

               We could, of course, spend hours
idling here (that’s what it’s for), but we
have miles to go and butterflies to see.


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Aaron Poochigian

Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His latest collection of poetry, American Divine (2021), was the winner of the Richard Wilbur Award.


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