What does California symbolize in this poem?
Donald Justice's poem "Incident in a Rose Garden" depicts the meeting of a gardener and Death. In the poem, Death is described using stereotypical imagery many relate to Death--dressed in black with a sickle in his hand.
The gardener feels that he does not have much time left on earth and decides to quit his job given he has things in life he wishes to do before Death takes him.
The gardener desires two things before he dies: to see his sons and to see California. One can easily understand a person's desire to say goodbye to family, but the wish to see California can be more puzzling.
One can assume that the gardener has wished to see California in the past. It, most certainly, seems to be a place which the gardener has wished to visit and has thought about. If he had not thought about visiting California, one could assume that it would not be on his "bucket list."
Therefore, California, for the gardener, simply represents a place where he has desired to see and needs to see in order to make his life complete before Death takes him.