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