Garden Syndrome By Aashika Suresh 

For lunch, she insists

on a raw tomato salad –

sticking out her tongue

to lick the slimy seeds

slipping out the edge

of her pink lips.

Then, she runs off,

like eight-year-olds often do,

to play outside

in the garden.

I watch her from the window,

conversing with a baby bulb,

thumbing another one gently

as she coos encouragements,

the way I often do with her.   

Later, I find her

sprawled asleep

on the weed bed.

The sun has deepened

her tan. Brown outlines

her small mouth.

“Did you eat mud?”

“Mud cakes,”

she corrects,

burping green.

All through the week,

my baby gardener

tends to her duties

meticulously, her fingers

in mud and mouth,

returning home

with sodden hair.

One morning, she informs me of a stomach storm.

Her skin is flaky,

hair a bit bleached,

and her fingers

seem oddly spindly.

Every time she retches,

a firefly glow

lights up her face.

The doctor examines

the shrubs that are growing 

out her ears and nose.

He recommends plenty

of water twice a day

and play in the sun.

Diagnosis: Garden Syndrome

“In a month or two,

you can pluck fruit

from her garden,”

he says. “One thing

is for certain:  she will never die

of starvation.”