175.1: John Estes:: Mower’s Song & Pattern and Fault 175

I am in the process of a cross country move. For the last several weeks, off for summer, generally unemployed, I make to-do lists for small errands. Tomorrow I will go to the tailor’s, the next, Walmart to buy underwear. I will call Michael about his show and try to make it this time, talk to UPS about shipping an awkwardly shaped box, see Alexios one more time. A letter came—USPS lost my media mail and I have to remember which books were in that box to file claim. I have to reset my iPhone because it has stopped receiving group texts (both blessing and curse). It’s the small things I find most exhausting and I wonder how people who perform this type of daily maintenance regularly live their lives and do so without keeling over. The thing is they do. A teacher in college used to talk about a writer who could only write while driving an old pickup, grinding the three on the tree, around his property. The process and monotony of driving allowed him to think. I wondered about the logistics—if he kept a pad at the dash or at his side, if he worried about maiming jack rabbits as he took his eyes off the road to scrawl down lines of dialogue. If it’s possible to both think and actually do. I think about my own writing, how it has to exist in a sacred space, how I have to be free and clear of all thought to perform it, and how since that’s never achievable, I just don’t do it. In this week’s selection, John Estes shows us there is poetry in these patterns of the everyday. In the routine of lawn mowing, Estes considers happiness, whether its achievable or if it matters at all. Is it the same to watch an eclipse online as it is in person? Both, as Estes offers, are terror inducing but I wonder for the same reasons. He echoes Eliot and Pound, and after I wonder if I dare eat the peach, I think, why the heck not. Nik De Dominic

Mower’s Song


I do to the grass only what my thoughts do to me.
The neighbor, a kindly Mennonite,
a grand inquisitor, watches from his porch for
pattern changes that confirm his cosmic suspicions,
must count the number of times I stop
to check email, or change songs, or jigger the throttle.
The brain itself presents a false dichotomy
between lusts and reason and forms of procreation,
a natural ignorance that intuitively explains
the invention of subdivided, hybridized-
grass lawns, cut to spec, so well intentioned,
so against the dictates of any nature I can imagine.
This too feels like an allusion.
Such an exertion of human energy, expended
week in and week out, all to keep peace
with the imagined neighbors.
I would, if I could pay for the place—
money makes for conflict and complication both—
bulldoze this lot and plant a wildflower meadow.
Or maybe a hedge maze or labyrinth.
Am I happy? Does it even matter?
It’s quite likely that flourishing as a human
potential is just a marketing term.
Is my eudaimonia a choice, or was I born this way?
Maybe the best we do is live up to how we bill ourselves.
Or we stop billing ourselves altogether;
the mirror is a known issue with a workaround.
So when I say a plot of wildflowers would make me happy,
just as when some religious men stop shaving,
we must think, or else we were taught,
that by letting appearances go
the vanities of recognitition and approval will stay
in check. This calculated liberation, this prolifc
paradox: I used to side with these men.
But it’s no longer the monks’ finger pointing at the moon.
All regular expressions reduce to questions of authority;
the axiom of choice has no single formulation.
So to a confirmed stranger math
can’t reveal which law is true or even best
to follow. Being a heresy doesn’t make it a bad idea.
Go see an eclipse, watch one on internet video,
and see for yourself why the ancients
got wracked with fear. My library copy of Dean Young’s
Art of Recklessness is long overdue:
the fines I’ve so far accrued would have bought
two books, one for me and one for you.
Yes that’s a metaphor, but so is all of it, right down
to the strategic ambiguity over
what’s the vehicle and what the tenor.
Who the fuck really knows?
I can’t even tell you if that’s a lament or praise.
Even this untuned engine spinning a pretty dull blade
gets the job done. Even if it won’t last.
It’s all a kind of laying low with a dread of rising.





Pattern and Fault


1.
I do (of course) wonder whether you ever Google
(or whatever) my name,
or think of me every day or two,
as I do you, though I only know your first name now.
Sometimes I joke with people who think
in such terms that I exited my portion
of grace when I refused you,
that I strayed from the Plan For My Life.
What does that mean for me? I say.
For my wife and children? I ask with existential portent.
It’s a fair question, but I doubt it’s as funny as I
play it off to be with those true believers.


1a.
The stinging insect is never not at its best.


1b.
The exact words I said to myself as I hesitated
before dropping that letter—the one
saying you were wise not to trust me—
into the post office mailbox out my car window:
“Fuck It God Loves Me.”
This is the most dangerous run-on ever uttered.


2.
Only with effort. This is what teachers say.
But you and I know about easy.
One can be most decisive with the most at stake,
which reveals how grand and dramatic
we would have our lives, if we could choose,
which of course we cannot. Love.
How permeable everything, everything proves.


3.
Those who believe that to think of a deed
is equal to performing that deed
cannot do this work alone.
And while they who have each other
deserve each other,
from this distance I greet you
with a twine of rosemary and razor wire.


4.
This proves mostly true—
there exists no non-x position from which to look upon x—
when you know the value of x.


4a.
You never asked me about the concussion.


5.
One can safely dream of a child’s death only
with that child asleep in bed beside you or the next room.


5a.
Are you, too, dreaming in boolean search terms?


6.
A Barefoot Doctor’s Manual prescribes Coptis Root
(Chu Sha / Zhu Sha / Huang Lian)
for night terrors, but also as a remedy for foul breath
and other excretions caused by too much
intestinal heat, which is itself but a symptom of an unsettled Heart.


6a.
By starting treatment at the far meridian,
the acupuncturist establishes plausible deniability.


6b.
I have kept this hospital bill, this postcard, this unsent email.
They remind me how it feels to hate.


7.
Once it becomes impossible to imagine
your desire going unfulfilled, you have achieved it.


8.
The look on your face as the train pulled away.
Petals on a wet, black bough
for sure, but I’m working on the koan whose answer
is that rattling sound, car upon track.


9.
Thank Parvati they got the lump with time to spare.
I admit with shame that I wept at the image
of your breast, as perfect as any Praxiteles imagined,
marred by the extraction that saved you.


9a.
I like to envision you coming across my book,
an accident of shelf browsing you’d
refuse to consider an accident, and finding it, despite
it all, the product of a terrible source
you recognize. In my fantasy you’d call it
an integer, a blastpile, a cratercyst, a firmament
distilled of unreliable sense-data.


9b.
I routinely forget the meaning of 15 minutes.
My son knows the day of the week more reliably than I.
The rampant proliferation of corn-based products,
my failing (thanks iPhone) sense of direction,
my insistence on wearing synthetic, wickable, fabrics
and avoiding cotton at all costs:
these pose a greater threat to me than any looming mortality.


9c.
I have failed repeatedly
to account for the vagaries of pixel density,
for the possibility of an aspect ratio that will not scale.


10.
There can be no condition such as natural finish.