Mark Scott

"the best damned poet in the business"

A Father’s Lawn

I too used to complain, after him,
that I had to cut it all;
now it looks no wider
than a grade-school hall.
Where did the room
for the pattern he’d send me on
go, from him and the well-top
down and in, past the spruce?
If I’d keep two feet in
where he hated to see
the gravel get over the brick
and into the grass,
I might fall in the driveway
but it was a completed pass.

In the judgment of the referee,
rules aren’t meant to be broken.
He wouldn’t let Bruce or me
challenge him by word or token,
of which a stance, a look, a sigh
was all it took: his hostility was open.
He made stumps of our bunk-beds
when we moved out. If he would cry,
he said he feared he’d never stop.
“Act natural,” he’d say, “there’s a cop.”

When the lilac by the side porch wore out,
he pruned it back to basics. It’s halfway back.
But the honeysuckle never really sprang back,
did it, for all the pains he took in its behalf,
every leaf and twig a storm or a gust would down
raked up and bagged. Good thing the grass never
took off in under there, to cover all the ground,
the way he hoped at first it would. He came to swear
he’d die before he’d have a lawn if he had to do it all again. Or
was it, “I wouldn’t have a lawn if I had it all to do again. I’d die before.”
In any case, he wouldn’t; he’d have a smaller lawn, a lawn once more.

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4 replies

  1. Hi Mark. A quick note on having read this again: The “act natural” line by itself sounds just like a father bringing in a quip from his own boyhood to make a joke to his son–done it myself. But the line is also craftily placed to put an end-stop to any seeping gush about the crying. I didn’t notice this before. I like that.


  2. Thanks Jim. I’ve used my father’s saying that before, in another writing about him, but it seemed to come in happily here. This poem could have gone into “Tactile Values” in 2000. In fact, I checked before I revised (quite a bit, last night ) and posted it to see if it had. My memory is so faulty that I think I might have done this all five years ago—new website plus all postings—and forgotten.


  3. Sometimes I like to play the “two kinds of people” game. Here, there are those who would have it all to do again and those who would have to do it all again.


    • Interesting way to look at do overs. I think on that subject in my twilight years. Memory fails me in certain ways but my memory of my mistakes just digs deeper ruts. I would do it all again. Like your father, I lam a slave to my gardening style.


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