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La Plaza poems for the Rites of Spring

In celebration of New York City’s parks and gardens, Felicia Young asked me to contribute to the annual Rites of Spring, which is usually held with costumes and a parade through the Lower East Side. This year because of the pandemic, it went online. So I included in one Vimeo a little piece of prose about planting flowers with children in La Plaza and two sonnets.

Let’s all get involved with the earth. Let’s use it for all the best and all the good.

from Body Parts

I just came from La Plaza where I planted marigolds with kids from the day care Sheltering Arms. First we looked for the frog at the fish pond, but the frog could not be found. The children in a growing loud chorus called, “Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit!” with their peering faces reflected over the waterlily surface. The wise frog thought it best to stay hidden. The children cannot believe when the fish food is poured and a golden carp comes floating up out of the gloom, then look! There’s a black fish, a minnow! And it’s not a cartoon or a book, but life itself rising up. I planted with five kids at a time while their classmates played off in the distance. I told them, “When we dig up the dirt, that helps the earth to breathe. The earth is alive just like we are. When the earthworms make tunnels through the ground that helps the earth breathe oxygen. Don’t ever hurt or be afraid of worms. Worms are really good.” Before we plant, I have them pour water into the holes and show them the white hairlike roots of the unpotted marigold. “We have mouths to eat and drink. The plant has roots.” One boy, up on his stuff, informs me that the marigold’s leaf will get energy from the sun. He really knows what he’s talking about and I say, “Yes, that’s very good. The leaf breathes just like us.” I hold the dangling marigold in the hole while each child puts a shovel full of dirt around finally to pat it down with their flat quick hands. Young shoots of peppermint already grow over the garden’s brick edge. I pinch off a leaf and show it to them. “Do you know what this is?” I put it in my mouth as they, unbelieving, watch. “Yum, it’s peppermint. People eat this to make their breath fresh. Does anyone want to chew some?” They don’t, except one girl who, unable to contain her curious self, shoots her hand up. I hand her a leaf that she, without hesitation, gleefully eats. Immediately two of her mates want some. I give them each a leaf and tell those still holding back that if they want, I’ll give them a leaf to smell, but not to eat, if they don’t want. They all do want to smell and, as soon as they do, open their mouths. In the leaves go. All smiles.


In the early dewdrop chilly morning
I’m alone gardening. What a delight!
It’s been hot and noisy. Now’s a quiet
tranquil dawn. New York City’s still sleeping
tired out. It was loud. Don’t wake the city.
I want to hear waking in La Plaza
beds of dark roses and gladiolas
sparrows chirping in the willows. Beauty’s
a lot of work and Manhattan’s landscape’s
a flower itself of stone, desire and sweat.
Yes I am determined and alive yet
with time to spare but not one hour to waste.
Reader, you might not know this ages hence
but my hands are dirty as I write this.


At 63 I’ve started to compost
in La Plaza, a park I helped to save
starting in 1987 and
succeeding in 2002. Some things
take time like a poem you want to write
or onion skins and carrot peels rotting
to loam. A lot gets done in the dark out
of sight. The evidence tells us not to
give up. You have to remember it’s not
always fun. Sit down and do it and it
will get done. From my window you could see
the World Trade Center till 9/11.
Another building rises there making
its appearance. My friends, the ends begin.

Artwork by children in La Plaza

Added reading

Body Parts (from NY Chronicles 2001)

Spring Sonnets



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