By JOHN BRANTINGHAM | 2015
History is not past. It is a vibrant living thing that affects what we see and how we act right now.
That’s one of the themes that run through Grant Hier’s brilliant collection Untended Garden: Histories and Reinhabitation in Suburbia.
In his 100+ page modern epic poem, Hier goes through a kind of people’s history of the Los
Angeles diaspora. Of course, Los Angeles is more than just the city. Downtown makes up little of the people’s conception of what it is. Beyond that, it is a sprawling multidimensional place that sends its suburbs through foothills, deserts, beaches, and rolling hills. Hier explores all of these places showing how people for ages have lived in this strange world harmoniously.
...this collection spoke to me, but it is not limited to those of us who are Angelinos.
The central metaphor of the piece is the family garden that grows wild throughout out the
area. Hier uses it to show how his family has lived here together along with all Angelinos before they even knew each other.
My mother's mother
digs a hole in the dirt yard
of the new tract home,
lowers the sapling
then drops to her knees
to uncomb its ball of roots.
She hums as she holds the trunk
upright, and gathers back all
that was displaced, securing
the base of the Chinese Lace Elm,
tamping the soil firm with open hands
Later, he writes:
Three years later, another planting:
my father's father digs a hole
opposite, by the curbside post,
and sinks a limb of younger wood – a sawed-off branch from the giant
Balm of Gilead Cottonwood in his own dirt yard
at nearly the exact longitude on a bead
due north, just past the foothills
on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains,
crosscut and carried over the ridge,
planted like a flag trailing our colors.
For a poet who has not moved far from the place where he was born, for someone who still
lives with the vegetation his forebears planted, the past is still present, and he makes the point
that he still lives with the life and the conditions that are unique to Los Angeles. I, too, have
spent most of my life in Los Angeles, and this collection spoke to me, but it is not limited to those of us who are Angelinos.
That's the beauty of a collection like his. It moves us beyond the everyday and the common. It returns the extraordinary in our lives that we've become blind to.
The universal message within is for anyone who belongs to a community—large or small.
Our actions echo beyond us and the actions of our predecessors echo through us. Grant’s
collection allowed me to re-see the world that’s been in front of me my whole life. That’s the
beauty of a collection like his. It moves us beyond the everyday and the common. It returns the extraordinary in our lives that we’ve become blind to.