Poetry by Michael H. Brownstein
I CUT THE GRASS WITH MY SON
My son, no longer a boy, tall and taller
Leans into the lawn mower on the hill,
The last quarter acre of land, the grass
Tall, too, lanky like him allows itself
To shape shift, the first days of September,
The sun on fire, the air on fire, I am melting,
My hair loose over my face like a wet mop,
My shirt discolored with everything pouring
From me, but there is shade and somehow
A light breeze. My son is as composed as can be,
Pushing the mower up the hill for another pass.
When he is done, he asks what’s next.
The silk trees, I point, growing everywhere.
And the vinko vines leaching into tree trunks
We wish to keep healthy. There’s a strand
Of poison ivy. The evergreen needs a trim.
So we work and the weight of the work
Grows heavy within me, but he is not wet,
His hands are not dirty, and yet the silk trees
Fall, the vinko vines disrupted at their roots,
The poison ivy cut at its source. Next?
He asks, but I need a break, our gallon jugs
Humid in the heat, and I am hungry, too,
So we enter the house where his baby girl
Leans into her mother, already knowing strength,
And my son who is no longer a boy
Lifts his child carefully in his large hands,
Kisses her gently on the forehead once, twice, twice more.
We have to do more, he tells her. When we finish,
We’ll take a walk downtown, visit the library,
And maybe get a bite to eat. What do you think?
And he kisses her again, on the top of her head,
Rubs his hand through the soft silk of her hair,
His strong hands containing all of her, his baby girl
Making baby sounds, and my son blue skies happy.
I THINK ABOUT MY SON WHILE I CUT A QUARTER ACRE OF LAWN
The father trims trees; his son trims trees–
they stand together before a mosaic of large bark,
new blossoms, a glitter of leaf, each one
holds a clipboard and a small golf scoring pencil,
their heads bent towards each other discussing
length and circumference, distance and height,
dry rot, the mulberry growing out of the maple,
the small tree forming in the elbow of dogwood
and I cut the grass in long rows thinking of my son,
the flea market twenty dollar mower grunting
one line after another, steep hills, roots,
the remnant of an old wall now revealing itself,
rock and brick, tree debris, clumps of earth,
the sun warming me to sweat and brine,
knowing he is cool in his lab researching herbs
and a multitude of plants, degrees in botany,
grants to travel to Vancouver, Scotland,
the the north of Viet Nam near the Chinese border,
to Missouri and his farm of figwort and moss,
then Chicago to his office, a portrait of his son and wife
on the wall above his desk, a photo of his mother,
the air conditioner blasting, his equipment singing
soft hymns, his computers opening pages of notes.
He will be coming to visit late August, the grass
not as tall, the rocks and debris gone,
and he will wake after his first night in his old bed,
come down for breakfast, his family still recovering
from their long trip, and say to me,
“Let’s cut the grass?” and I will answer, “Yes.”