Sunday, June 12, 2005

In a Dry Month

The baby-on-the-way poems have stopped, for the time being, so I thought I'd switch gears and post something completely different. The idea first occurred to me while I was moving the lawn (and blistering both thumbs, by the way—never say I didn't suffer for a poem).

Grass, Again

The grass isn’t working.
There are pale, bare spots,
and it’s fraught with weeds.
Tire marks turn to sand.

My antique lawnmower’s blades are blunt
and clog to a stop every three or four steps.

The trimmer I also use is unsteady:
a dipping stab,
a slash that goes slack
in the thicker tufts, a frail cut that moves
me around like a mine-sweeper,
hovering gravely,
as if dowsing for buried water
or for valuables on a beach-head.

Still, I even it out where I can,
smoothing it over to call it a lawn
and not a nearby vacant lot.

The greens-keeper of this inadequate plot,
I rub my hurt wrists, and contemplate
pesticides, herbicides, leaving it here
untended forever, losing the war.

If only the grass would keep its promise
of humble renewal, of mournful acceptance,
of democratic independence,
of peaceful remembrance.

How much is its famous fertility,
its precious baseness, worth to me?

How long can I stand to mow it down to nothing
and hope it will always return?

How do I know what frail blooms belong
in this wilderness, which I happen to own?

How do we lose the control that kills
and cultivate idleness, unless
field-mice may rejoice?
When the human world falls
will death rediscover the innocent grass?

It's a strange one, since it starts out pretty low-key, and unrhymed, but then ramps up to a rhetorical finish, and uses rhyme pretty heavily at the very end. I'm not sure how this hybrid form works, to be honest.

I'm also wondering about the effectiveness of message in the poem, which for me is pretty important. You may have noticed that the words that begin the poem are inspired by Carl Sandburg's poem "Grass" which is about war and forgetting (the poem ends "I am the grass, let me work"). I guess I'm also engaging with Whitman's image of grass as a symbol of the American democratic ideal, which, in this current period of Diebold voting machines, mass disenfranchisement, and general electioneering chicanery (not to mention plain old stupidity and dishonesty) is almost as bedraggled as my back yard. I'm wondering how clearly these ideas are conveyed here, without this little blog footnote.