The Duke of Tryon Court

Dave Clemente would walk around the neighborhood, ostensibly for exercise, but really he was inspecting everyone’s curb appeal, like he was the Duke of Tryon Court and we neighbors his vassals.

If your lawn was a little shaggy, or some dandelions decided to pop their little butter pat knobs above the grass, Dave would be like, “Off with their heads.” And he would pretty much tell you exactly that.

“You know, Ben, you’d better get control of those dandelions before they go to seed. I don’t need any parts of those little puffy tops finding their way to my lawn,” he told me two years in a row. The fact that I lived six doors downwind from his place didn’t matter. I and my lawn were just one of the invasive species that had taken over his verdant domain.

In truth, no one took better care of his lawn than Dave. Or more interest in everyone else’s. I would see him when I would go out to fetch the paper at dawn, positioning his sprinklers for maximum coverage, one inch of water in the ground per day, each day a third of the lawn catching his godlike decree of showers that kept his greensward looking like a billiard table straight from the factory.

I’d wave to him later as I walked out to the car on my way to work, but he didn’t notice very often. You could see him eyeballing the arc of the sprinklers’ spray, nodding approvingly at the way, if the sun’s angle was just right, it would drape a rainbow across his lawn. His head would follow each sweep of the sprinkler, left to right, right to left, mesmerized by the gift of life he was imparting to the organism that his house wore as a mantle.

If grass was supposed to be purple instead of green, Dave’s lawn would be the most royal of purples.

I sometimes would imagine what it would be like to be in his head, gauging everyone else in the neighborhood’s lawns against his own. I would watch him stalk the sidewalks, turning his head a bit sideways to observe if any of our lawn’s had grown irregularly over the past week since mowed on Saturday or Sunday.

“You need to check the level of you blade deck, Ben,” he’d say. “Look how unequal your cuts are. Lopsided and, well, trashy. And you really should stick to one kind of seed instead of those cheap blends. See how the rye grows faster in this weather than the fescue?”

“Um, no.”

“Here,” he’d say and pull me down to knee level and then tilt his head to the side again like he was sighting a sniper rifle. “See how those rye blades are popping up like moles out of their hole in relation to the red fescue? Makes it look shaggy as hell. And speaking of moles…”

“I gotta go, Dave. I think I left the tub running.”

“Okay, and that reminds me. One inch of water over the whole lawn. Gotta water deep to keep those roots well hydrated. Can’t let your lawn turn brown when everyone else is trying for green,” he shouted over my shoulder.

Like I said, Dave practiced what he preached to the nth degree. He treated his lawn as well, if not better, than he treated his kids. Which, if I had his kids, so would I. Wild little buggers, but probably since he wouldn’t let them play on his precious grass.

You’d see little Marisa doing cartwheels on everyone’s front lawns all the way down to the Cramers’ place, where she’d play tag with their kids. All around the outside of their house, including the front lawn. I’d find Dave Jr. running under the spray from my lawn sprinkler on those days I remembered to give it fifteen or twenty minutes of shower time. Kid would leave the lawn a muddy mess. But my son would join him, so I couldn’t bitch too much. I’d join, too, on those hot evenings.
Besides, what’s the sense of having grass around your house if you can’t enjoy it?

And where was their Dad? More often than not, he would be peering down the breadth of his lawn, flat on his stomach on the driveway, ruler in his hand, making sure the height never deviated more than a quarter of an inch from three and three-quarter inches. Then he would move to the middle, lie on his belly again, and do the same thing for all 360 degrees of that island of hoped-for fescue perfection. And he’d see to it with a pair of surgeon’s scissors.

I once wondered where his obsessive-compulsive bent in turf grass science came from. Dave hadn’t attended agricultural school, he was an IT guy. His father was an accountant and his mom stayed at home with the kids. I did notice some old family photos on his hallway walls once at a Christmas party. One showed young Dave and his Mom and Dad and brothers—all wearing the same little outfits with matching bow ties and two-tone shoes—seated on the couch. On the clear plastic-sheathed couch. Next to the clear plastic covered lamps. Feet dangling above the snow white carpet with the clear plastic runners leading back to the camera and across the whole living room.

I once played golf with Dave and instead of shooting the breeze as we walked the course, he would point out how the greenskeeper had done this to fix this part of the course and how he should have used that to keep a certain green from having darker green spots. I asked him how he knew that and he said his Uncle Carmine, who was a greenskeeper at a public course in Jersey, had taught him all this.

I once asked Gracie Clemente if Dave’s Uncle Carmine had ever been to their house.

“I imagine he’d be proud to see the efforts of his nephew.

“Carmine? Dave doesn’t have an Uncle Carmine. Oh, you mean Carmine Verducci. He was just a friend of the family. Sort of a surrogate father for the Clemente boys, since their dad was always working late hours. Dave and his Mom took Carmine’s death really hard,” she said.

After that, I didn’t begrudge Dave his idiosyncrasies as much. I may keep a shitty lawn, but I’m not exactly an unfeeling barbarian.

And I felt kind of sorry the day Dave died. We found him out in his backyard, lying on his stomach, his head up, looking and reaching out toward the back of his house.

“Poor man. he must’ve been looking for help from inside,” my wife said.

“Yeah. Sad.”

I say I felt kind of sorry because I knew Dave Clemente died doing what made him happiest. In fact, there was this calm and…I don’t know…accomplished look on his face when we found him. I didn’t have the heart to tell my wife about that few rogue blades of grass in front of him and how the Duke of Tryon Court already had his scissors in his hand.

This story — since I seem to be incapable of digging up sufficient emotion to write poetry lately — was prompted by Canadian writer and writing instructor Sarah Salecky for her “Six Weeks, Six Sense” writing feature. This week, we were supposed to use the sense of sight as a theme. I’m sure I blew the assignment altogether, but this thing just took off on me. I saw that one of her prompt photos and this story jumped out of my head to the page.

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Charon’s SUV Turns Left at Number 57

The snow’s melting
beneath my window, as
small streams form
along the roadside.
They ring the cul-de-sac,
like some suburban River Styx,
circling my little world
nine times before heading
into the Underworld
of the storm drain.
That’s where the waters
gathered as some great
rainbow-topped sea
before dropping into its maw.
This world has fed them
salt, gasoline and other
poisonous potions we ignore
shrug off like a spring shower.
I’m told to drink the Styx
would render the god silent
for nine years. But to taste
these shining waters might render
a songbird voiceless longer.

Welcome to No Man’s Land

The tractor’s in the shop and I
should’ve sent my back there weeks ago.
So the grass out front has mounted
a full frontal assault on our home’s
curb appeal (if we had curbs)
and an interdiction upon the exercise
of my creaky and aching masculine ego.
Usually, the state of a man’s lawn
is something that will twist his
Obsession Dial to 9 or 10, especially
from April to Independence Day.
But sometime after that, the drive
to maintain that pool table-perfect
expanse of turf withers a bit,
not unlike the object of my
all-consuming passion for greensward.
But let one person ask what happened
to the once-plumb and level landscape,
and the explosion of counter offensive
will lay low the Creeping Charlie that
dares to peek its head above the fescue.
I turn busy anthills, lumpy underfoot,
into smooth and fertile ossuaries
for the insects more industrious
than the he whose subsoil they mined.
Your homeowner, smug, sweat-soaked
and satisfied, heads into the house
for a shower, beer and nap. I don’t
yet know how last night grubs hatched
and moles and crows will tear
this man’s lawn into no man’s land
by Tuesday.

Appetites for Destruction

He didn’t make a sound,
at least not one I could hear,
but the ruckus this pest raises
was like a crack of thunder in my ear.
You’d see him ramble from the kitchen
to dining, and then living room,
looking for a crunchy snack,
without even a hiccup of doom.
I tried not to wince when
I saw his nonchalant mien,
but he’d come not only for dinner, but for
every other meal, even those in-between.
See, it isn’t the taste of sugar
luring this intruder into my house,
he relishes the wood it’s made from,
chewing holes into it like a mouse.
So a hit man I called,
my whole joint to festoon
with a taste-free spray, which
put my fears of collapse to rest soon.
I’m relieved my guest no longer will dine
all around me, my home to lay waste. He
also won’t provoke the dawn wall-hammering
woodpecker, who finds carpenter ants so tasty.
The moral here, friends, if a moral’s your trick,
is don’t be so naive as I, a city boy so thick
I bought a home made of what builders term “stick,”
instead of like my old place, constructed of brick.

For Day 27 of NaPoWriMo, I combined NaPoWriMo.net’s prompt calling for a poem exploring the sense of taste with Robert Lew Brewer’s word bank prompt. In the latter I was to use at least three of the following six words in my poem: pest, crack, ramble, hiccup, wince and festoon. Only three, Robert? You know me better than that.

Also, I’d like to extend my thanks to NaPoWriMo.net, who named yours truly as its featured participant today.

The Homeowner and the Crow ~ A Georgic Fable

The Man stood ready, his lawn to spray
In order to kill off or at least chase away
Those bugs and such turning his green grass to hay
“I’d reconsider that, if I was you,” he heard a voice say.

And, looking up, in the maple he spied a crow
Staring down at him and speaking, for a crow, quite low.
“Why should a bird of the air care what I sow?”
The Man said, knowing t’was poison, not seed, he’d throw.

“I see on that bag the sign of the skull and bones,”
Crow squawked down disapprovingly to Homeowner Jones
“And that won’t work on all the bugs in certain zones.”
The Man did pause, wondered what else he could use to end his lawn’s moans.

“What other remedy is there that will rid us of the bugs
Turning our lawns into naught but scratchy yellow rugs?”
He asked crow. “You leave this to me and not those jugs
Of drugs or whatever. Go back inside for more coffee mugs.”

Crow said, and Man for once listened and decided to agree
With crow, not knowing if this junk might even kill friendly bee.
“Okay, Crow, you go ahead. I’ll accede to your plea.
I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said, as Crow alit from the tree.

And when he returned, Man found Crow was gone
As well as great patches of what once was his lawn.
From above he heard a cackling black bird laugh on and on,
And he knew he’d been bamboozled from yesterday to dawn.

The moral of our Georgic fable, one you might find on Pinterest,
Is if you’re looking for a natural remedy to bugs big, bigger or biggerest,
Check with a human expert in agricultural entomology, I insist
And never some clever bug or grub-eating bird with a vested interest.

For Day 22 of NaPoWriMo, I once again combined prompts, one calling for a Virgilian Georgic and the other for a poetic fable. Considering I cranked this out in about twenty minutes, I’ll take what I got, though as an agriculturally instructional Georgic poem, as well as providing a moral, old Virgil and Aesop are no doubt spinning like tops in their final rests somewhere above or sub rosa. (Photo copyright 2016 Joseph Hesch.)

An Afternoon in No-Man’s Land

The wild bramble bush has defeated me for years,
defending itself with twisted wire vines and thorns
like wildcat claws. It’s stalks and branches
laughed off mere garden shears and sorely tested
the metal mettle of long-handled pruners.

It tries disguising its natural malevolence
with dainty pink blossoms come spring and summer,
as well as musical accompaniment from humming
honey bee acolytes.

This year the gloves came off when I pulled
my leather gloves on, fighting claws with
the teeth of a chainsaw. With chain whining and
motor roaring winnowed the suburban Maginot Line
down by its flanks, nearly to its side-hill foundation.

I then called an immediate cease-fire.

There, deep within the once-impregnable, are
two entrance holes into the den of an animal
who felt the need for the jagged protection
of my bushy bête noire for its newborn own.

That’s when this ruthless flora-felling homeowner
was himself hewn down by my own nature as
pater familias. I’ve gone soft in my old age.
Even semi-merciless backyard generals have families.
I can always wait to finish after Father’s Day.

An extra poem for Day 19 of NaPoWriMo. The true story of how this suburban Genghis was conned by some varmints (along with his own soft heart and cowardice — those holes are BIG) to show quarter to the foe that’s blooded me for seven years.

Dawn, Feb. 11, 2017

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You stir, cough, roll over and peek one-eyed at the clock signaling in garish mini-sunrise that it’s 6:30 AM. Kicking off the covers, you swing to face the wall while your feet search for slippers hidden in the coolness of your bed’s shadow. Scuffs beneath your feet, you shuffle to the window and pull back the curtain just a crack to see the consequences executed by the overnight snow. Eyes blink their reconciliation with the alarming alchemy cosmically metamorphosing the black-smudge base metal of yesterday into the platinum of a new day. Wedding cake duplexes and cupcake SUVs suspended from the clouds by steamy exhalations surround the cul de sac as gray dawn doesn’t so much rise as just happen. Crows calling in cacophonous amity, scratch away the comforting blanket of bedroom quiet. Four inches? Six inches? Does it matter? You still ache from pushing aside Thursday’s storm, so what’s to come when you eventually step into the subarctic day is just another pile of potential, frozen and tossed upon your front step like a million Sunday papers. You crack your back, grab some socks and head downstairs. Weekend’s come and it still feels like Thursday.

Welcome to my shivering, shoveling, sleep-deprived world. And I count myself lucky to be here in it.