Today I am going to kill a living thing–a Meyer lemon tree. Every now and then I try to figure out what in my life is worth time and effort and what is not. Last week I decided that all the years of bringing this tree inside in winter, outside in summer, taking it with me to Marion, then bringing it back to Hartford–and for what? one pitiful lemon?–were just not worth it. My only regret is that three years ago, after a month in California while my mother was dying, I returned to find the tree had produced six lemons. It was truly beautiful and comforting. But that effort seems to been its first and last hurrah. Still, killing a plant, even one as obviously hopeless as this one, is not something to take lightly. That is why I am including this beautiful poem by Theodore Roethke:
When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine–
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she’d lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)
The things she endured!–
The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing booze at her,
She leaning out of her pot toward the window.
Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me–
And that was scary–
So when that snuffling cretin of a maid
Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.
But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely.