CJ Muchhala on “Lessons from the Garden for the War Machine”
Our family has a cabin near the Wisconsin River and the initial inspiration for many of my poems is my observations in the surrounding woods or by the river—a wild tom turkey displaying for his mate, perhaps, or the way moonlight glints off the water. However, “Lessons from the Garden for the War Machine” is an exception.
At home in our small backyard, one of my perennial battles in summer is that perennial weed called “creeping Charlie” (aka ground ivy). After consulting a lawn expert I learned that my efforts at pulling the weed out had only created an expansion of sturdy little Charlies. I could have done more to toughen the grass against Charlie, but, she said, it was too late now. A herbicide might kill it eventually but I would need to keep applying the poison over a long period. Since I was unwilling to do that, the lawn expert left me with one final piece of advice: “live with it.” As you can see from the photo, that’s what I’ve done. My backyard is now Charlie’s bailiwick.
I’m not sure how inspiration works, but my battle with Charlie seemed a metaphor for the so-called “war on terrorism.” It seemed to me that we were trying to uproot a persistent system instead of strengthening countries against its expansion, and so the poem was born, its shape created to suggest a yard and to work against Charlie’s sprawl.