Labor day

4010 jlh rds cottage12x8

Jan and Dick, Lake Crescent, Washington, 2015

(for RDS)

My love, temporarily booted,
his Achilles tendon aching, asks
for help tidying up his tiny courtyard.
On Monday, after a weekend of sloth,
I arrive ready to tug sprigs of privet
that have summered nicely in the happy dirt
as he takes a small trimmer to the delicate
ivy spilling over the wall.

But, despite a good soaking the day before,
some of the stubborn privets refuse to yield.
He tosses me a soft green sit-upon,
and, butt down, I go at the shallow roots
with trowel and elbow grease.

I have learned this before
and practice it again: You can never
extract all the roots, no matter how long
you dig. The best you can do is pull up
the ones near the surface, clip them
and toss them in the pile bound for
the leaf bag, then haul them away.

My old man, as he calls himself,
sneezin’ and wheezin’, now three-quarters
of a century young, sits for a bit,
his big black boot extended, says
he’s grateful for his younger girlfriend.
I look over my shoulder, toss out,
“Where is she then?” as we both laugh
at the old joke.

In 90 minutes the courtyard is tidier,
bereft of stray leaves and privets,
seed pod balls and ivy cuttings bagged.
I heft the haul to the big bin half
a football field away, refusing the puller
he offers. “I need the exercise,” I say,
thinking of the hours my butt will spend
in a chair before a computer, prepping
the new semester’s college classes,
reading student writers’ work.

So I walk, the soft bag bumping one leg,
on a glorious midday under trees still leafy
and green, no outward hint of what’s
to come. I stop, reposition, breathe heavily
as the faces of two beloved poet friends
recently departed flit across my field of vision.

Something in me issues vocal gratitude
for this body, newly 60 this summer,
still moving well, still able to lift and bend
and pull up privets, to rake and scoop and haul,
to labor and love that man in the boot back
in his courtyard, putting the rake away
until the next round of leaves

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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10 Responses to Labor day

  1. Hilary A says:

    Oh, how lovable is this write! And the photo–the absolute BEST together!–finishes it off like fine wine, unless you prefer Earl Grey!

  2. Deja says:

    You two are the BEST! Love the pic and the writing. Love you.💖

  3. Constance E Raub says:

    Thank you so much for sharing part of your “privet” life with us! You are so good to spend some of your precious Labor Day Weekend doing manual labor for your “old man” – not so much old as incapacitated at the moment! However, I’m sure he is appreciative of your help. Love the picture of you two! Here’s to a great teaching year! Your students, of all ages and in all venues, are lucky to have your inspiration and help. Love, Connie

    • janishaag says:

      I tell him that all the time… “You’re not old!” Love the “privet” life line… and the joint is getting tidied up for your visit (a rather good thing, as it happens!).

  4. Louise says:

    what a beautiful photo, along with your wondeful writing…..if u need more “exercise” I have a back yard needing some work?……..

  5. Margo Fowkes says:

    What a pleasure it is to read your beautiful poetry. I love the line “after a weekend of sloth”. Your poem reminds me of the partnership between my parents — my dad raked the redwood leaves and liquid amber leaves, and my mom weeded the garden. A quiet enduring partnership so beautifully captured in your poem.

  6. Kathleen Adele Goemann says:

    What did Herr Schmidt do to his Achilles? I feel for him as I actually ruptured mine some years ago. Hopefully just strained.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • janishaag says:

      He thinks he told you about this when you last saw each other, but he felt an ache in his lower leg before we went to Canada that did not improve. He went to the doctor after we came home and was eventually referred to a podiatrist, who booted him. It seems to be just strained, not ruptured, as he told me yours was.

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