A Small Moment Turns Large

Last Wednesday, I took BART into San Francisco to attend a poetry reading at Green Arcade Books on Market Street. A long-ago student and friend, Hazel White, with whom I had lost contact for years, was reading from her new book, “Vigilance is No Orchard,” a book-length poem, and I was looking forward to renewing contact and hearing Hazel read.

Green Arcade is a charming, small bookstore, just down the block from the Zuni Café, whose windows opened that evening onto rooms filled with diners eating and chatting. The sight fit my mood—happy to be strolling in San Francisco on a balmy June night, anticipating a reunion with a friend—and someone I’d always admired.

Two other poets read first, their work lovely and complex, but I was most looking forward to Hazel. As she began to read, I realized with a jolt that her newest book was about a subject I knew well: Hazel’s relationship with landscape architect and botanist Isabel Greene and Greene’s famous Valentine Garden, in the foothills above Santa Barbara.

Hazel had begun writing about this garden all those years ago, when she took her first UC Berkeley Extension class from me! And although I had always thought her writing exquisite, she, on the contrary, was perpetually disappointed with it, certain she hadn’t captured what she had deeply experienced in this garden.

But now, Hazel was at last satisfied, and here the garden was again, along with Isabel Green, come to life in a 77-page poem.

At that one moment, with that single realization, those many years and that large distance that had grown between Hazel and me, disappeared. Here we were, full circle, her words, my attention, filling all that space.

Variation on Rust


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