Mark Scott

"the best damned poet in the business"

All Hid

At the Cemetery

The gravediggers keep to themselves.

So do we. They do their work, we do ours.

We hold gloves, keys, flowers,

a purse, a Bible, a whiskbroom, a hairpin, the other hand.

Each of us notices something and speaks, bending.

Some headstones, having sunk in, lean, but ours stand up

straight. They need grass pulled back off their edges

and dirt swept out of their engraving.

Doing that, we calm down, though we feel flat.

We look down.

Reading scripture weakens us.

Saying “Our Father” weakens us more.

And then we catch. Our hips lock, but our shoulders

square to the car. That’s the kind of animal we are.

 

After the Storm

Mrs. Colburn called the beauty terrible, and Mrs. Boucher agreed.

Some of the limbs could have wrecked a car or killed someone.

My mother said it was one of those nights when you heard

breaking off all around, and my father said there hadn’t been

a night as bad for trees since the night of the storm I was born in.

Looks like a war’s been through here, Mrs. Colburn said, waving

and on her way. Then we dragged the fallen into the back field

and piled them on the pile. That’s all we did. We’d had our say.

 

Deviled Highway

Love’s labor’s not always lost.

I grew in a suburb and saw.

After storms there was wonder,

there was loving and reconstruction.

I was born in one, and I’m still

dragging limbs through the field

and raking twigs up into piles.

The same goes for my parents.

They had feelings too.

They would have liked to move

into another neighborhood,

but they stayed. In the room

where one of us died our mother

kept her office as before.

She was an interior designer.

On the corner where another

one of us was killed, our father

still cut and swept and trimmed.

The civil wars were few.

The one with the Cohigs:

they were all girls but one,

and we all boys but one,

but a Bardwell got into it

so we shot a robin full of

BBs to cause her pain.

And there was the break

between us and the Whites

after Craig pinned a coontail

to the seat of his pants

and then spread the tails

of his rented tux when Glee

curtsied at the Debutante Ball.

It made the society page.

The Whites didn’t speak to us

for a year, but we kept in touch

by taunting their dog, Bear.

My brothers and I committed

crimes, did drugs, had sex.

We lied, we cheated, we hid.

We were in our father’s eyes

milestones to American liberty.

Until 1967, he marched us

mornings with the flag

to the window facing west,

unfurled it, saluted, put it

like a soldier in its post,

made sure our hands

were on our hearts,

then led us in the Pledge.

In our mother’s, we were

apostles of the Catholic faith,

god–mothered, god–fathered,

innocent, best in navy blue

with knee socks and saddle shoes.

Division was always imminent.

Every day on the way to school

the “Divided Highway” sign

read “Deviled” to me,

and many divisions since then

have come to pass.

 

Biblical History

A breakfast of paper and sharp pencils,

to copy the Ten Commandments with.

The order our penmanship put them in

was not the order they took in his teaching,

where the fourth came first:

“Honor thy father and thy mother.”

“Obey” is what I remember writing.

That lesson failed to teach us

“First things first,” or else we were

better listeners than our father knew.

It started our career of overhearing,

which he couldn’t stand when he noticed.

Tone did the teaching.

We acted accordingly.

When a policeman would pass,

he’d say, “Act natural”—

which added to the list of things

impossible to eat for breakfast.

Didn’t we know just before it

how to behave? Weren’t we?

He made it second nature for us

to look to him for what to do.

But what exactly was he doing?

He was driving, justifying.

Second things first, then.

We learned that lesson.

We disobeyed, to get him to see

we’d heard him put last things before next.

When his youngest son was killed,

he was memorizing the last page of Camus’ Rebel,

struck by what that limit is,

under the sun, that shall curb us all.

He feared that his remaining sons

would be drafted by other men and made

soldiers of their adolescent furies.

With supreme tension he raged;

and we copied, we obeyed.

He was not yet forty,

and none of us was ten.

 

The Water Tower

for Mark Sink

The water tower is nothing.

In the puddles of our neighborhood,

it is not a symbol, it is tall, and squirrels

(at least one) have leapt from its bolted steel.

The water tower is a surprise;

it bleeds our hearts; it is nothing.

Nights we go there half silent,

spidermen full of panther–sweat,

oiled, stinking. We see with acid eyes

the rungs dripping water beads.

Barbed wire guards the first step up;

the horses start; our legs shake;

their hooves wake or don’t wake

the neighbors; we cling to the ladder, don’t slip.

I was born in a storm in a hospital

in that house there, a chicken coop

someone’s father built. Your father built

that house, you say. You were born in a

hospital too, with dyslexia in your eyes.

But that isn’t our fault, so we talk of girls,

the nearest obstacles, our first long rides.

I remind you we didn’t fall again this time.

We forget all we want to remember up here.

The thought of our impact in the distance

softens in the cheatgrass. How high are we?

Hell, it’s not that high. You tell the story

of the squirrel’s suicidal dive, how it lived,

how you gashed your leg getting down

to see it limp away. Probably one of us is

jealous of the other, and one of the squirrel.

But up here, where we command the view,

I can’t say to you that I’ve lost much,

and you try to. “We’re instamatic,” you say.

When we climb down from here we will not fall,

and we will go to the houses of our fathers

our mothers keep, to sleep as the sun comes up,

exposing this tower, this silent surprising thing that is tall.

 

Letters from Home

Sometimes in the middle of them,

sometimes in the end, sometimes

in the middle and again in the end,

our parents wrote, “Got to run.”

A run around the block

was our mother’s only specific

when any of us ailed.

She swore it never failed,

though she never felt the need.

“One foot in front of the other,”

our father liked to say, “for speed.”

He would run for thirteen miles.

Both kinds sound good to me,

and I’ve tried to practice each,

but when I run I hear my feet

beat out a kindergarten song—

But the one little duck

with the feathers on his back,

he rules the others

with a quack, quack, quack

and then I can’t go along.

 

Starting to Quit

Spoiled and addicted, I couldn’t take my father’s wisdom

when he gave it, that the only way to quit is never to start.

I was off in his footsteps and off in my mother’s, who was off

in hers, the nicotine pretty well per stirpes, as lawyers say in wills.

Drinking went hand in hand with smoking,

as Wystan’s profiles make Auden.

I got drunk first at a brunch for the resurrection.

The champagne rushed down the flute and rose again.

We drank according to the scriptures, my father and I,

keeping always in the back of our minds the verse

that we would know our last martini but not remember our first.

Who was counting?

We didn’t check our thirst,

the cups it took to get us to recite

the old poems of the inner life

with its melancholy, choked–up light

that brims with all the sober art and scope

we often envy in the poet, and sometimes hate.

 

My Mother’s Garden

What the scent is I can’t quite say—

a June lawn cloyed with Russian olive?

My mother’s garden in the summer sun.

Mine, too, for the weeding I do,

for the water I fan across it

when the vinca withers in the afternoon

and the lilacs sag, and the honeysuckle;

when petunias wilt and tulips splay,

and root-beer irises like poodles’ heads

start to lose their groom; when pansies

shrivel and daisies droop,

and the skins of the Newport plums pucker.

From inside, my mother calls out:

“And don’t forget the geraniums.”

 

Freelancing Weeds

The rest of the summer’ll just be for freelancing weeds,

getting down on your knees and working your fingers

until it hurts a little to hold a drink in the cocktail hour.

It might be that I’ll go down on a cheatgrass cluster

and grab hold of an old turd my first day. But I’ll keep

pulling anyway, and maybe turn up a grub in the process.

We’ll share the surprise, the slight shiver it will send up

both of us. It would take more than that to make me quit.

The weeds I pick tomorrow I’ll pick again in August.

They’re always coming on, and only some, the ones

with leaves like kinnikinnick, tiny, succulent jades,

slide out in a snap, their white, amazing roots intact.

Most never come, even after rain. I clench them low

and tug, and all I ever get is a nosegay of leaf, bitter

with hints of butter, but the ground’s crust’s unflaked

at the base of that stem. Its freely branching roots

a bald electrician couldn’t trace meaningfully enough

to snip. I can smother them and burn them; I can rub

herbicide like lotion on each cotyledon and true leaf,

even take a weed–eater to them at the hottest hour—

but they’ll come back. Hell, I could have this job

for all my summers, and never do a good one.

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