Among the Garbage and the Flowers

Continuing my celebration of both Earth Day and National Poetry Month, I’ve chosen this week to share “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, published as a poem in 1966 and released as the author’s debut single record in 1967. It speaks of Cohen’s unfulfilled romantic longing for the beautiful, free-spirited wife of one of his friends. Here’s a portion of it:

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river

You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night beside her

And you know that she’s half-crazy and that’s why you want to be there

And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China…

Now Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river

She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters

And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor

And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers…

            For the purposes of this column, I’ll focus on the line “And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers” because this is also a column about litter.

            It’s not the first time I’ve written about it and it likely won’t be the last. Litter, it would seem, is an eternal problem, made worse by the prevalence of single-use containers, which I plan to write about next week.

Many years ago, I wrote a column about the litter I spotted along Cherry Creek Road. It’s a main highway between Putnam and White counties and is a major litter corridor. I found items so interesting on my walks that I filled an entire column with a list, which included a still-useable insulated travel mug, a refrigerator magnet that said GO CAVS!, a poster of Tom Selleck playing volleyball in short shorts, a frayed paperback book filled with Emily Dickinson’s poems (I wish I’d kept it!), and a CD of Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits. The piece de resistance was a disembodied Barbie head, which I placed on a fence post.

I live now in a less-busily travelled part of town, where—thankfully—there’s not nearly as much litter. Over the past several years, I haven’t found anything worth keeping except an empty cobalt blue half-pint bottle of Skyy vodka, which is now prominently displayed on the driftwood bottle tree in my front yard.

Mostly I find trash—dirty diapers and dirty socks and frayed gloves and junk mail and broken ink pens and plastic sacks that once held potting soil and paper sacks that once held cat food and cigarette butts and disposable cigarette lighters and glass beer bottles and aluminum beer cans and plastic Mountain Dew bottles and lots and lots of fast food remains. Animals make quick work of the buns and fries and chicken nuggets, so mostly all that’s left is paper cups with plastic lids and plastic straws and wadded-up paper sacks and wadded-up paper wrappers and greasy paper napkins and—worst of all—opened foil ketchup packets that I accidentally step on all too often.

Every now and then, I take with me a trash bag and the grabber I inherited from my mother so I can pick up litter, but it’s hard to do while wrangling a dog who’s all too eager to scarf down that thrown-away ketchup, foil packet and all.

Rather than focus on garbage, I try to notice the flowers that grow along my route. They’re abundant, from phlox and wild violets and dandelions in spring to ox-eye daisies and black-eyed Susans and morning glories in summer to goldenrod and ironweed and dandelions (again!) in  fall. Would that I were talented enough to write a poem about them.

(April 23, 2022)