By Lance Larsen
Featured Art: Fresh Air, by John Schriner
My job is to mow. My job is to coax the prairie
around my mother-in-law’s house into green
chaos, then decapitate it on Friday till it looks
like carpet. My other job is to say dang
it’s hot and enter the kitchen and sip juice
and nuzzle my beloved at the stove when her
mother’s back is turned—an eighty-seven-year-old
back but still super quick. My beloved
has her own job—open and close the fridge,
push me away, and keep some things
cold like cucumbers and Gouda and yogurt,
and others hot like caramelized onions
and yesterday’s sweet and sour, and pretend
her mother’s Alzheimer’s is a shrine we’ll visit
someday like the Taj Mahal and not daily triage.
I still have other jobs, like having cancer cells
burned from my face at 3:00. Or is it 3:30?
I check my phone. Oh good, 3:30, more time
to decapitate the prairie and sip juice
and maybe swim slippery laps at the rec center.
The pool has a job, flow over me in little blue waves
the way Walt Whitman’s beard flows
over his readers and coax me into repeating
palindromes: Rats’ star, Do geese see God,
A Toyota! Then I move to Spanish words
that can’t be translated: Sobremesa, duende, madrugar . . .
But that’s a later job. Right now, I’m here
to remember I forgot my sister’s birthday,
but by how many days? Calendars won’t help.
My mother-in-law has three going at once,
none current. She hangs them like religion,
a menagerie of glossy animals she’ll never see
in this life. Above the stove, my sister’s birth month
equals three penguins waddling. Beside the phone,
a giraffe eating leaves from the stratosphere.
On the fridge, two hundred tons of barnacled
whale breaching off Tahiti, all blow hole and flukes.
Now my beloved makes it official. We are not
eating for twenty minutes and maybe I should
attend to the prairie? Outside, I sit my butt down
on the front steps, and let hot and cool compete
for my body, and clouds and the tinkle
of an ice-cream truck fight it out for my soul.
Pretty soon the crotch-sniffing German shepherd
from next door sidles over. Her job is to inspect
me, ankle to chin, just another private
smell museum. I take in her police-looking face,
her scholarly ears, those dagger teeth.
Then she rolls to her back as if inviting me
to take her life. That’s when I see the ticks
buried in her belly. Five of them, swollen
like bonus nipples in a universe painted
by Hieronymus Bosch. And she plays victim,
and I play St. Francis Of Assisi pulling
and pinching, not with tweezers but my fingers,
and I crush each tick with a stray brick.
Their job is to pop, and my job is to witness
and wince. And now the breeze is playing hide
and seek, mostly hiding, and I fire up the mower
and follow my shaking hands around
the yard in circles, like someone lost in a lovely
grassy maze, repeating rat’s star, rat’s star, rat’s star.
Lance Larsen is the author of five collections of poems, most recently What the Body Knows (Tampa 2018). He has received a number of awards, including a Pushcart prize and fellowships from Sewanee, Ragdale, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2017, he completed a five-year term as poet laureate of Utah.