I live in Norwalk, Connecticut, with my wife, fellow poet Laurel Peterson, and I am a Professor of English at Manhattanville College. I have published a book of poems, Shiva Dancing (Texture Press, 2007), a chapbook, Between What Is and What Is Not (The Last Automat Press, 2010), and individual poems in various journals.
My dog has buried bones that lie
forgot until a change of seasons
pushes up a scent through the moist earth
that snaps her head like a lead pulled tight.
Then she sets to digging, butt up,
paws and claws in furious excavation,
snout caked with mud, head
disappearing beneath the sod.
I’ve buried bits of you that molder
beneath the frost, sunk from sight
until I catch a hint of something past,
a strand of Shalimar
threading through a crowded room,
fragment of a face, echo of a laugh,
a long slow note extruded from a clarinet.
My digging sometimes yields
a hollow femur that settles
heavy on the spattered ground.
Sometimes I extract a memory
I can wrap again with flesh,
fill with breath, swell into a poem.
My father taught me to mow
in straight swaths like a tailor
laying out a fabric of
herring bone in alternating weave.
Set a plan and follow it.
Don’t meander across the landscape
leaving ragged tufts and ugly seams.
Options were limited.
Shave close the overlap,
eliminate a pass.
Begin adjacent to the garage,
draw lanes the length of the lawn,
up and back, up and back,
doing kick turns at each end,
spreading a flat green wake
beneath the slowly moving morning sun.
Or, start on the circumference,
head either left or right, then pivot
ninety degrees right or left at each corner
with increasing frequency,
run around a shrinking track,
arrive finally at a small top knot,
green and silly at the center,
then with the mower lop it off.
His method served me well,
left a satisfying scent of cut grass,
gave heft to a boy
mastering a man’s craft, prepared me
for later skills: how to hit a nail square;
hold a shotgun, swing and pull;
hang a door, raise a joist, frame a window,
plot a path through life.
But if I had a son,
I’d take him to the meadow,
show him doves in flight,
swallows circling home at night,
take him to the ocean,
plot the paths of bluefish, spots, and cod,
find a prairie, watch the bison
graze in slow meander,
follow squirrels working autumn ground,
read him Tristram Shandy, Whitman, Hopkins,
Joyce, set him loose and hope
he’d leave that little clump of daisies
or wild oregano intact,
or mow his name into the grass.
©2016 Van Hartmann