Garden Notes (Sunday, Dec. 14th) And a Ninth Century Irish poem at the end.


I’ve just finished new poem, “The Piano” –I’ve been tweaking the Colophon notes, which I will post here in the next day or so.

I went outside to look at the garden, and to feed the birds –Mourning Doves, a family of Cardinals (the head guy I have named “Willebrandt” –and that’s a whole other story) and a Surge of Sparrows.

What amazing birds the sparrows are! And NOBODY seems to have studied them –I guess there are just too many of them!


The garden has taken on very much the look of a winter garden –the trees have lost all their leaves, the tall staked tomato plants look gaunt and frostbit, and the multitude of (multivarious) pepper plants have had all their fruits picked off. They –the fruits– lie on a large table inside. Many of them I have used to make a variety of hot oils, which I use in frying and for flavoring –such as dropping on cold noodles, often with added peanut butter & scallion mix. ( Considering the criminal inflation of scallion prices –along with everything else– I am very taken with my four large pots of wild chives that I dug up from various spots in the garden; I use them on the cold noodles -snipping them off crewcut style. They grow quite vigorously, sitting inside a sunny window on a broad plank that I have set up there.)

I have brought as many of my herbs in as I can fit –two lovely Rosemary bushes (flowering right now); my old Sage plant which looks a little sorry for itself, but is essentially in good shape and will no doubt take off again in the spring and add a thick foliage of those wonderful leaves.
I don’t have that many uses for sage leaves, except that they look so beautiful. (I’ve always heard about sagebrush (-bush?) out west in the deserts –does anybody know if they are the same? And does anybody have any interesting things to do with Sage in the kitchen? Or anywhere else? Besides looking at those beautiful leaves.
Some months ago I was talking to my sister Ros –the painter– in Dublin; we were talking “gardens” (the whole family seems to have that abiding garden urge; the not-complete-unless-one-has-a-garden urge) and Ros happened to mention her Sage.
“Oh, ” I interject, seizing the opportunity that she had presented me with, “What do you use Sage for?”
She thought for a moment. “Nothing, really,” she replies, “I just like the look of those beautiful leaves.”

Other plants taken indoors include some Thai Basil –it will grow anywhere; some small Thai peppers plants (very hot). Also, found just a couple of days ago, outside in a sort of outdoor nursery space, a small pot with some very healthy looking green leaves. It had a plant identifying tag stuck in it, Oh, I say to myself -what is this? I turn around the plastic tag strip (I cut up old plastic containers, such as for bleach, and write on them with an old chinagraph pencil) and read –Tangerine! I had planted some pips many months ago, just out of curiosity as to what would happen, and had forgotten all about them.
They are inside now, up on that plank. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see some tangerine blossom in the spring.
I have also taken to filling the odd old egg-carton cups with earth, and sticking in a dozen garlic cloves, and keeping them watered and in the light. In a few days they shoot up those vigorous stalks, very flavorful, and very open to being “haircutted” on a regular basis, for dropping onto a fried egg, or elsewhere.

One last thing. I had great success during the summer season with Mustard leaves and Arugula. Also with Horseradish root –the leaves are good for a salad.
Amazingly, all three are still growing outside, showing considerable hardiness, which draws from me remarks of admiration, approval, and encouragement. And gratitude. I tucked them in with a few extra fistfuls of dead leaves in their pots to insulate them.
Just yesterday, to go with a lunchtime cold-fried-chicken sandwich, I had a salad comprising all three leaves, plus some dandelion. What more could one possibly ask for?

There is no recession in this garden. Recision, perhaps –but that’s the job of the winter-gardener.
Regulated arugula. (In my free market garden.)


Sweeping up the leaves –yet again, though I seem never to be quite on top of this community-conscious duty– from the sidewalk on Stone Street the other day with my big wide broom, my Russian Old Lady neighbor is looking on. She comments approvingly. There is even a hint of sympathy in her voice:

“Those leaves!” she says. “Where do they ch-ome from?”


I leave you with this beautiful 9th Century Irish poem that I translated many years ago (–you will find it in my little book, “The Pleasures of Irish Nature Poetry.”

Here’s my tale:
the stag roars;
winter snows;
summer’s gone;

high cold wind;
low rise sun;
short its run;
strong surge seas;

Red-brown bracken;
shape is hidden;
wild geese cry
all the time now.

Cold wind grips
wings of birds;
season of ice;
that’s my tale!

[Anonymous: 9th C.]

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7 Responses to “Garden Notes (Sunday, Dec. 14th) And a Ninth Century Irish poem at the end.”

  1. beth

    Malachi, do you plan to distribute – or perform – “The Piano” on Staten Island? Anytime soon? Your neighbors would love to hear it – see it – read it.

  2. Malachi

    “The Piano” –an update.

    I have still a little more work to do on Part Two of the poem. I had hoped to have the complete piece (Parts 1 and 2) ready for the Small Press Book Fair, but in the end, could only complete Part 1 .

    “The Piano” is a poem that has resisted being rushed from the very outset (I started it in March 2008). I think I have in a very real sense been taken over by it: I would have thought that with putting extra hours into it the month before the Book Fair, that I would have had the finished book there, all completed –like every other book I’ve ever done.

    But, no. This book, this poem will be ready when IT is ready. Which it ALMOST is.

    Having come so far, I do now see that it would be wrong to force it. And to announce any dates for release, or publication, or performance –all of which I will do, very much so; very much want to do; very much look forward to doing– at this stage would only constitute a sort of forcing, however indirect.

    As I have mentioned to some friends, this long narrative poem is without doubt the most satisfying writing project that I have ever been involved in. I always considered that I had fairly high and strict if not stringest standards that I aspired to meeting, required myself to meet. But in the composing of the “The Piano” –which will end up about 1500 lines– I gradually became conscious that all the individuals in it (many of them, like my mother in 1994, and her cousin Liam Lynch in 1923, long dead) and the others (such as my family and many friends who knew what I was attempting to do and are involved in it in the way that we all become with friend’s projects), that all of them were, in my mind’s eye, up there, looking over my shoulder, and requiring that I “get it right”.
    I felt that need, that obligation. I would do more reflection, more research, more reading –often producing no more than a line or two. Liam Lynch is an important and very controversial figure. Like history and politics everywhere, Ireland’s can be very partisan, very polarized, and Liam Lynch has suffered from the lack of balance.

    I came to see that my earlier treatment of him did not penetrate, did not do his memory justice. My clue to this was my mother –all the things she told me or conveyed to me about him. And –all the things she didn’t tell me about him!
    Would you believe –I can hardly believe it myself– that I had never realized that she had named me, in 1937, after him (my second name is Liam), and NEVER told me where the name Liam came from!

    Our parents! How well we know them, and how little we know them. They are so much THERE when one is a child that the many questions that we now wish we had answers to, never occurred to us to ask then.
    Writing “The Piano” has, among other things, been an exercise in exploring the person she was before I was there. (And also my father, to a lesser degree: I had already “explored” him in an earlier book, “Listening to the River”).
    In her case, it meant taking every memory of her that I had, and adding to it all the clues of her earlier life that she had actually given me, told me about, and putting them all together, and reflecting on it, and letting what came, come. In this, many little stories that she had told me, now on prolonged and ongoing reflection yielded deeper understanding. I began to see a logical pattern to her behavior, to her evolution.

    So, Beth, thank you for asking. I know we did talk at one point about plans for after-publication –that day your car broke down. Be assured that I will be making an anouncement later.
    Until that, there is always “The Piano: Part One” which is about my memory of my mother playing the piano, and the extraordinary dream that strated me off on the whole project. That is available as a book right now. It does work as Part One, but I do recommend waiting for a little while, for the complete work.

  3. Malachi

    One last point here:

    I mentioned above that “The Piano” is the most satisfying project of my life. I forgot to conclude that statement: I have NO IDEA of how good it might be.

    What I have come to realize is that that is not my call.

  4. Sue


    I have just discovered your blog, although several years ago I purchased a number of your books and have enjoyed them immensely.

    Upon reading your garden notes, several thoughts have come to mind.

    You mention Willebrandt and I am curious about your “whole other story”. My experience with that name brings to mind a pup I once had who suffered from Von Willebrandt Syndrome, which is an hereditary bleeding disorder apparently affecting humans as well as canines.

    Sage: Having grown sage for years (I am located in KY, although a native upstate NYer), I agree that it has limited uses, mostly in poultry dishes, though I have seen recent recipes using it as a garnish. Creativity is the operative there. Dried sage leaves are also burned, a process known as smudging, and are reputed to create a pleasing aroma. I have attempted this but have only experienced a hint of the original scent. From what I understand, sage was also burned by Native Americans for purification/cleansing purposes.

    On to garlic: I have a variety of perennial garlic which not only creates bulbs below the ground but also flowers and produces plethora of small, bulb-looking “seeds” which disperse and increase your next year’s crop. I have been unable to identify the specific variety, but it is quite prolific, albeit strong in flavor. If you think you would be interested in propagating some of those seeds, let me know and this fall when they mature I will be happy to send you some. I can think of no reason why they cannot be grown in pots. As I say, they are quite prolific and come up in all nooks and crannies out here, so it is possible they can easily be sown in a limited space in the city.

    Best regards,

  5. Malachi

    Dear Sue,
    I enjoyed your comment very much. You sound very knowledgeable on the matter of Garden Notes and I enjoyed your sage observations on sage and garlic.
    My mention of Willebrandt comes from a very different source to your canine disorder. Cardinal Willebrandt was a high-up Cardinal in the Catholic Church who I met when I lived in Rome in the late sixties as a member of an interfaith community. The Cardinal was the head of an Interfaith Council in the Church who turned out to be –shall we say– somewhat less than encouraging of our efforts. My Cardinal Bird called Willebrandt is a better songster and more enjoyable company.
    I would love to try your garlic “seeds”. Maybe we can arrange a swap.
    My garden is not large but is wonderful and I can’t wait for the 2009 season. I’d like to hear more about your garden and gardening, and any unusual –i.e. non northeastern– plants you are involved with.

    And lastly –how did you come across my books all those years ago.

  6. Sue

    Dear Malachi-

    Sorry for your unfortunate encounter with Willebrandt, the Cardinal. After hearing of your experience, perhaps he was indeed the inspiration for an unpleasant disorder.

    I cannot recall where I came across your books, but the year would have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 1997, give or take a year. (My apologies, as time tends to erase details as we age, and particulars sometimes elude me.) You should know though, that along with other titles, I ordered several of your little books on the perfect cups of tea and coffee and they made spectacular accompaniments to gifts of same; a lovely “little” accent.

    As for gardening, along with herbs and some vegetables, we indulge in a dabbling of native plants, those indigenous to an area. The vegetable aspect is curtailed somewhat by very poor soil here, overgrazed and overused in years past, so we are limited in that arena.

    Many of the native plant species we propagate are not necessarily limited to this specific area, know as a “zone”, so they may also flourish in the northeast and other regions. They range anywhere from flowers to edible greens and tubers. If you think you are interested, let me know and I will be more specific or can refer you to reference material with appropriate details.

    We have 15 chaotic acres, and although we have some spring specimens, we focus more on the hardier prairie plants. The advantage there is that they require little attention and are incredibly hardy, withstanding drought and infertile conditions, (I’m sure I need not expand on the advantages in that realm). Before careless cultivation and rampant building on the land, these plants, (sometimes considered weeds), were thriving undisturbed, and were used by native peoples for food and for medicinal purposes, not to mention prevention of erosion, etc.

    So – if you think you are interested in either greening up your yard, or just enjoying a junket into the world of native plants, let me know and I will be happy to impart whatever meager knowledge I have (I am by no means an expert). And if after that you think you are interested in taking the plunge, I would be happy to include native plant seeds along with the garlic for your enjoyment.


  7. Malachi

    Dear Sue,
    Thank you for your comments. Re your kind offer concerning native plants in Kentucky: rather than take your time, perhaps you could send me a link or two where I could read up on them, and then perhaps get back to you with some specifics.
    Your mention of Native People prompted me to ask: Are you familiar with the Arbutus Tree (known in many parts of the world as the Madrone Tree, and in Ireland as the Strawberry Tree. It took my fancy a few years back to do a book about it –it now lies well-researched but as yet un-written; I do undertake my various book projects regardless of any commercial appeal, but often, along the way, harsh fiscal realities intrude and I am forced to shelve a particular project. But only temporarily.
    But my research into the Arbutus/Madrone tree gave me a very high respect for the extent of Native American knowledge and lore –it was quite extraordinary the wide range of properties of the tree (leaves, bark, fruit, roots, etc) that the different tribes had discovered. So far in advance of “our” (as opposed to “their”) science.