The Secret Garden

My reclusive uncle. Reputed to possess
a photographic memory though his brothers
say with a disapproving sigh, “He has
nothing to take pictures of.” A brain that,
if it’s a photo album, isn’t a family one.

And if it were, would look more like a
mug book. His mother’s favorite despite
being the middle son. Maybe despite her
extreme Methodist upbringing she is by
nature a follower of the Middle Way.

Maybe she savors vicariously the life of
seclusion her bones would choose. My
flickering uncle. Who married and divorced
the same woman twice, proposed a third
time but was turned down (causing much

distress to the neighborhood numerologist).
Who weathered Vietnam behind a desk
while his younger brother saw blood
and death and helicopters — rescuing and
avenging angels by turns that would hover

just within sight for the rest of his life.
My uncle who is never in focus. Who never
stays overnight or if he does, insists on
checking into the motel by Gas Creek that
is sinking slowly (the contractor didn’t

foresee the weight of petty sins — and how
irresistible they’d be to marshy ground).
Who talks nothing but basketball with a
feeling we can never identify. Who will go
for a year without getting in touch as

though he were a whale in love with the
deep and we were the air just above the surf.
Who scared the bejesus out of me before
dawn last Christmas Eve. He saw through
the front window my drowsy face in Mac

light, rapped on the glass then vanished
before I could see who he was. The Ghost
of Christmas Never to Be. He surprises us
when he comes for his unwed daughter’s
baby shower and stays three days. Like

he has amnesia and it takes 72 hours
under a party hat to recoup his personality.
He huddles in the kitchen with his son
till the maternity gabble and gossip are
done. Killing time and talk with my folks

in their garden, he abruptly asks my mom
for a start from her Japanese irises. “What
on earth for?” “They’d look good in my
purple section.” Stunned, she offers him
start after start. He only takes the iris.


Timothy Robbins has been teaching English as a Second Language for 28 years. He has been a regular contributor to Hanging Loose since 1978. His poems have appeared in Main Street Rag, Off The Coast, Bayou Magazine, Slant, Tipton Review, Cholla Needles and many others. He has published three volumes of poetry: Three New Poets (Hanging Loose Press), Denny’s Arbor Vitae (Adelaide Books) and Carrying Bodies (Main Street Rag Press). He lives in Wisconsin with his husband of 21 years.

Poet/Photographer Jennifer Matthews’ poetry has been published in Nepal by Pen Himalaya and locally by the Wilderness Retreat Writers Organization, Midway Journal, The Somerville Times, Ibbetson Street Press and Boston Girl Guide. Jennifer was nominated for a poetry award by the Cambridge Arts Council for her book of Poetry Fairy Tales and Misdemeanors. Her songs have been released nationally and internationally and her photography has been used as covers for a number of Ibbetson Street Press poetry books and has been exhibited at The Middle East Restaurant, 1369 Coffeehouses, Sound Bites Restaurant in Somerville and McLean Hospital.