It wasn’t like the damn lawn wasn’t a pain to mow to begin with,
What with the way all the lots on their street,
Once part of the old Revolutionary War tracts, great broad squares
Haphazardly cut through any number of sub-divisions and surveyor’s mis-markings
Into narrow slivers, all odd angles and uneven sides,
Like some pie carved by an ancient and unsteady baker,
Yet each spring his missus added another curve by the walk to the front porch,
Or rounded out some corner she’d cut back by the scrubby old apple trees
(Those really needing to come down as well, just another reason for the deer
To wander into the yard and take out the hollies once they’d finished off
The few gnarled and sour offerings the trees in question presented),
A few inches here, a foot there, of turf given over to her plantings
At the cost of a couple fewer straight rows
For the ancient, heavy John Deere push-mower to navigate.
Still, he couldn’t deny that she could work the next best thing to miracles
On that rocky soil, especially since she worked exclusively with wildflowers:
Asters, chicory, day lilies, phlox, bellflowers, ironweed which would flourish
Clear into November–not a store-bought bloom among them,
And always sure to generate some comment from Alice Finch-Barker next door,
All pinched nose and pursed lips, along the lines of That’s quite lovely, dear,
If you’re fond of the railroad-bed gardening kind of thing,
As if buying a tray of impatiens or pansies was the height of haute couture.
She was taken away, and all that came to an end.
The wildflowers were muddled up with and soon overwhelmed
By the Queen Anne’s Lace and goldenrod,
The outlines of the beds less perceptible each year,
Until one late April he decided to fix up the garden (though he wouldn’t have said
It was a conscious decision as much as a notion that letting the garden go so
Wasn’t right, and that notion had simmered to the point
Where he’d had to do something about it), and so he’d dug and swore,
And appropriated such flora from roadsides and railbeds as needed
Until the old plots were reasonable approximations of what they’d been.
His children and neighbors were a bit worried by the transformation;
It was good to see him take an interest, certainly,
But he worked at the sowing and the transplanting
With something approaching a frenzy,
Clomping around back roads at the height of July days
Where cooler heads would have sat on the porch with an ice tea,
Reading a book and scratching an old dog behind the ears,
And, as Ms. Finch-Barker would tell all and sundry,
It’s not like he’s a child any more, no matter how much he acts like one.
For his part, he said little about his new-found passion,
Save for occasionally grunting Shame to let things go to rack and ruin,
Always with one eye seemingly cast
Toward the dark patch of dark green scrub pines at the back of the property
Which seemed to inch closer to the house every winter.