"Urban Garden"

Dan Machlin


This presence of a garden on our block transforms

our sense of urban space so that we no longer feel

trapped indoors, without adequate means of

escape, unable to transcend the particular property

to which we have been assigned. Belonging to a

garden means we possess a key. Only those with

this key may enter sacred space. This privilege

bears responsibilities. We must cultivate our plots

each year to continue to be recognized as

gardeners. We must perform specific chores to

fulfill our obligations of membership.

The garden is close to the ground. Is everything that

our apartment buildings are not. Its perimeter is

defined by a steel wire fence that separates the

outside space of the sidewalk from the inside space

that contains wood-framed plots, a tool shed,

compost heap and grid of paved and unpaved

pathways organized around a central trellis.

The privilege of entering and occupying the space

within the garden fence is reinforced by those who

pass by, observe us admiringly and cannot enter. They

wonder what we are up to – how this came to be.

Why we are within this privileged space and they

remain mere observers on the perimeter.

Occasionally, it may come to pass that you are the

sole occupant of the garden for a time and are able to

enjoy the strange sensation of being alone in what

resembles well a prison except that you possess the

means to enter and exit at will. Your safety, an illusion

perpetrated by a high fence which might be difficult to

climb but whose permeable membrane likely offers

little protection against outside forces truly wishing to

do harm. But fortunately the greatest harm that has

been perpetrated by outsiders has been by those who

occasionally pick flowers that poke through the gate

or climb up and pick the sweet cherries and sour

cherries that bloom in May or early June that hang

down over the side of the fence. And there is certainly

a delight in sharing the fruits of the garden and herbs

with those who stop to look and wonder at the

marvelousness of a garden such as this in such an

unlikely place as the middle of Manhattan.

There are also dinners at the picnic tables which

primarily the relatively younger occupants use to hold

candlelit barbecues in the early evenings with wine

and beer. Because, like the thin (nearly invisible) wires

that define eruvin in orthodox Jewish communities in

Brooklyn & Israel, within which the observant are able

to designate once public spaces as private in

relationship to Sabbath restrictions – or like the

minimalist sculptures of Fred Sandback who created

an altered sense of space through the use of few lines

of acrylic yarn or elastic cord – within the garden, city

open container laws and other regulations that apply

to open space cease to apply.

The mere fact of the fence defines a private space for

all inside that thwarts the rules of the street. And that

is why people on the street who pass by and see you

enjoying a glass of wine are so utterly charmed by

this and puzzled about how this can exist. This

possibility of another outside space beyond the small

space of the apartment transforms the block and

instantly makes it more human. Even when we aren't

able to visit the garden for quite a while, it matters

deeply to our perception of the block. The fact of its

existence speaks possibilities. Allows us to breath a

little clearer knowing that we can unlock the gate and

take refuge from our homes, from the street, from the

perimeter of the block into an interior place.



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Author Bio: Dan Machlin‘s books and chapbooks include Dear Body: (Ugly Duckling Presse), 6×7 (Ugly Duckling), This Side Facing You (Heart Hammer) and In Rem (@ Press). His poems have appeared in The Recluse, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Fence, Veritas, Figuring Color (ICA Boston) and are forthcoming in The Tiny. He was a recent Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace writing fellow and has received grants from CLMP/Jerome Foundation and Fund for Poetry. He is the Founder and Executive Editor of Futurepoem books.