How You’ve Helped Me Grow

[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]

In 1982 Michael left the faculty at Muhlenberg and moved to New York City to work in industrty, specializing in business communication. There, he met a computer wiz named David Harkins. A New Jersey native with a thick accent and a an easy laugh, David was involved in making some of the first computer-generated television programming for public access television in New York City.

Michael and David in New York City in 1984, shortly after they met. Photo © Marcia Weinstein.

In 1984 they moved to Boston, where Michael drove a cab until he got hired at Harvard Business School teaching Management Communication, and David worked in the IT department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They eventually built their dream house on a vacant lot at the top of Miller Hill in Provincetown where they would spend weekends and vacations.

As they slowly relocated to Provincetown full time, and Michael got to work making the dunes bloom. This was not purely aesthetic: the roots of the plants held the sand in place, delaying the need to get a bulldozer to push the sand back up the hill to keep the house supported. Both Michael and David spent the rest of their lives in the house they built together.

Michael and David in the garden.

The twenty-second poem of Cape Cod Light is How You’ve Helped Me Grow. The title is a simple, almost corny pun, reflecting the poem’s straightforward conceit: their love has grown like the flowers in their garden. This is the second poem in the book about the garden; that and a few of the other poems of Cape Cod Light are about David, but this is the one love poem in the collection Michael wrote to David.

How You’ve Helped Me Grow

(for David)

The flowers I gave you are wilting.
They now stand for nothing but time.
Every representation of love
Changes meaning
Like diamonds locked in a drawer.

We’ve sustained
The one plant you owned when I met you:
A philodendron that hasn’t gained an inch
Over a dozen years.
It doesn’t mean we haven’t.
It’s still alive.
Nothing important we’ve sheltered has perished.

As soon as we built our home
I started filling the yard
With junipers, marigolds, petunias,
Earnest to make the dune bloom.

Some failed, or vanished into the grass and ivy:

Conventional roses, lily of the valley, delphinium.
Most thrived: bleeding hearts, daisies,
Promiscuous carpets-of-snow, rakish cosmos,
Gladioli, dahlias, and spruces,
Chrysanthemums, beach plums, peonies, seapink, and milkwood,
Even the aloe and hibiscus we take in every winter.

Every spring, we’re surprised by the early green:
Crocuses, daffodils, and tulips.
We found each other in bars and apartments.
We gravitated together over thousands of miles.
We’ve tolerated the intolerable.
It’s a lot to grow from a one night stand.

The next poem is here.

*I’ve put a comma after “conventional roses,” even though it’s a period in the book, because I think it’s a misprint: “lily of the valley” is not capitalized, and a comma is more consistent with the rest of the poem, where no other line has an internal period. The one-line stanza also seems out of place to me; it’s possible it belongs in the next stanza, but it is hard to say because it is separated in the book by a page break. In this case, I’ve given the benefit of the doubt to the typesetter.

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