In 2014 I wrote a monologue about urban gardening, seeds and weeds, and the redevelopment of the old rail line by my apartment into a bike path and walking trail. I performed it that summer, and then, some months later, revised it into an essay and it was published on Belt Magazine. A scant three years later, my garden has been turned into fancy townhomes, the train tracks are the 606–the city’s poster park for creative reuse–and the revised-again essay is included in a new anthology of essays previously published by Belt, out in April from Picador.
Here’s a little excerpt; more about the book here:
In the proper context a weed can be a tincture, or a tea, or the main ingredient in your pasta with wild ramp pesto. If it roots in the right place it can fix nitrogen in the soil or anchor unstable ground. In fact there’s a famous story that the first life to return to east London after the devastation of the Blitz came in the form of weeds. According to Richard Mabey, author of the book Weeds, by the end of the war braken carpeted the nave of St. James Cathedral and ragwort scrambled up London Wall. The spread of the lowly rosebay willowherb was so thick and rapid it was welcomed with the nickname “bombweed.”
But what’s a weed on land no one cares about? In the loose taxonomy of common weeds, railway weeds are their own low category: tenacious, craven plants that have staked a claim to the roughest most embattled turf around. Yarrow and curly dock. Pigweeds prostrate, Russian, rough, and smooth. Spotted knapweed, hoary cress, Western goatsbeard, and toothed spurge. They all have names and properties, but in the ledger of urban improvement count for nothing.
I’m so happy that this bit of writing continues to find new legs; it’s an odd, gentle piece, decidedly less “Rust Belty” than the rest of the essays in the book (many of which I originally edited and published as Belt’s editor) but speaking to the same themes of urban decline and creative understandings of renewal. I’ll be in New York on Tuesday, April 3, for the release party for Voices of the Rust Belt at Community Bookstore, 143 Seventh Ave. in Brooklyn, at 7 pm, with editor Anne Trubek and contributors Layla Mellier and Sally Errico, and then back in Chicago Thursday, April 5, at the American Writers Museum, 180 N. Michigan Ave. at 6:30, with Anne and contributors Ryan Schnurr and John Lloyd Clayton. Come hang out with us!