Sunday, June 13, 2010

Close and Soon

Cutting an uneven swath, he steers
the tractor round his father’s lawn.
As the scraggly grass disappears,
he wonders where the time has gone.

The clouds roll like ingots
of gray iron on a rack, roll
off the sky. The industrial
moan from across the river
accompanies their production.
Once the snow here lay pocked
with cooling ash, a white coke
we rolled into dejected snowmen.
The fat carp were too hungry
to eat food. I would soak bread
in WD 40, pinch it on a hook.
And even now the speedboats go
too fast, as though the sunken
piers and jetties of old concrete
were demolished by the headlines
blaring tragic stupidity. The wake
quickly comes to shore and rolls
back out to cross and pattern
that from the opposing shore,
while ravening carp suck and spit.

The mower rattles, drones, whines,
churning the long-neglected grass,
leaving mulch in jagged lines
he scatters with a second pass.

He built three piers: two
on piles sunk into the ooze,
straight, elegant, stable,
and after the spring’s ice
in two-foot thick floes broke,
one of board and steel drums
tipped and bobbed, drawn
each fall onto the riverbank,
lock-chained to a willow tree.
But here he’d sit, grim,
implacable, shaving his acre
and two-thirds, while his son
pulled ten-pounders out,
yipping he couldn’t hear, like I
can’t the foundry throb but know
the sound’s there. I don’t know.
Turtle head he helped, once I’d
waved him down, draw snapping out
swearing, hatcheting the baggy neck
blood spattering his khaki pants.

The biggest part of the back yard
starts as a perfect, shrinking square.
Though he turns each turn hard,
each turn goes wider, mowing air.

Then the things he didn’t know.
Pipe puffed until it dizzied
me—sitting on a stump, staring
at the lights dreaming on glass.
Dancing to chants, speaking in
fragments, chemicals cutting
my blood, at the film that lays
on the eyes like a named color,
we laughed until we thought
laughter would wake the moon,
the heat, the willows, the river,
like barging in on our sleeping
parents would wake their dreams.
And the sticky, aching, itchy
pair shielded by the willow’s
weeps, clothed in humid darkness,
kissing her where I’d never
thought kiss, yipping and moaning,
that tiny furry tightening fist
releasing me from my loneliness.

To square the square, he turns away
to look back, after each side.
It takes him much longer this way,
but his Dad would be better satisfied.

Last night, the mosquitoes took
their meal at her tender skin.
She slapped at them and made words
of the light in the ripples,
gave the Big Dipper seven names.
The dark grew pure, but didn’t scare
her. She could hardly see even
me. She wanted a word for each
sound, each shadow, hungry
for names she thought I gave
to mulberry, nighthawk, cicada.
I made a song about the trees
dropping tears into the river.
Are leaves tree tears? Yes,
and the wind is tree laughter.
That is how you give yourself
to things, close and soon.
Where did I learn that? Cut
grass till it’s done. Welts all
over her body. Not one on me.

Finished, he disengages the blades
and returns the tractor to its shed.
His hands’ buzzing slowly fades.
Off, the engine sings in his head.

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