Sunday, April 04, 2010

J. Alfred Prufrock's Sister Does Yard Work


I pruned branches away from the house, using a 12-foot expandable pruning saw. First I used the saw to hook the branch I wanted to trim. I brought the end of the branch down, secured it with a slipknot, pulled the rope taut, and held the rope down with my foot. Finally I trimmed farther up on the branch. Next step: Use the lopper to cut those pruned branches down to size for yard waste collection.

Getting in my workout for the day inspired the following parody, my second riff on "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." (You can read my earlier parody here.)

J. Alfred Prufrock's Sister Does Yard Work
(with apologies to T.S. Eliot)

Let us go then, you and I,
When the branches are spread out against the sky
Like macrame on steroids.
Let us go, past half-deserted stumps,
The ever-growing rumps
Of mounds the fire ants come boiling from,
Discarded cans and hardened chewing gum;
Insects that follow with a tedious argument
Of insidious egg-laying.
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
We'll find out at Bugguide.Net. Let's visit!

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Home Depot.

The yellow pollen spread its coat upon the window-panes.
The yellow bees that buzz and bump against the window-panes,
Filled their sacs inside the corners of azaleas,
Flew past mosquitos in pools that stand in drains,
Let fall the seeds from fuzzy dandelions,
Slipped by the hawthornes, made a wasp irate,
And seeing that it was a hot Florida day,
Decided to go forth and pollinate.

And indeed there will be time
For the dog fennel that spreads across the yard,
Stretching its stalks up toward the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare to whack invasives that you meet;
There will be time to murder and celebrate,
And time for all the works and days of hands
To sigh when everything regenerates.
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred weeds to pull,
And for a hundred yard waste bags to fill,
Before the guzzling of a gallon of Gatorade.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Home Depot.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to grab a pruning saw, climb the ladder stair,
With holly bushes tugging on my hair --
[They will say: "How her hair is getting tangled!"]
My sweaty T-shirt, the sawdust falling on my chin,
My slipknots pulling branches, rope secured beneath my shin --
[They will say, "But how those twigs look mangled!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the mockingbirds?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions while they drop their little turds.

For I have known them all already, known them all --
Have known the beetles, moths, cicada whine,
I have measured out my life with trimming line;
I know the roaches dying with a dying fall
Beneath the swatter rushed across the room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all --
The eyes that fix you in a compound stare
From things that should be sprawling on a pin,
But instead they're all wriggling on the wall;
Then how should I begin
To clean up all the butt-ends lying in the yard?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all --
Arms that are sunburned red and bare
[But in the lamplight, dark with curly hair!]
Is it perfume from DEET
That knocks me off my feet?
Arms still trembling from weed-whacking, wearing bits of carapace.
And should I then presume?
And when's the shower free?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the bats pinwheel between the oaks
While lonely love bugs pine away on windows?

I should have grabbed a pair of ragged claws
And dug that skunkvine up by all its roots.

Inside the house, the kitty sleeps so peacefully!
Petted by long fingers,
Away from squirrel poop and insect stingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after litter box and kibble,
Have the strength to spend an hour in a quibble?
But though I have slaved and sweated, lopped and pruned,
Though I have brought the compost [grown slightly ripe] out on a platter,
I must balance all that carbon and nitrogen matter;
I see the garden's butterflies all a-flutter,
And I read a bunch of deed restrictions and mutter,
And in short, I don't give a crap.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the hedge-trimming, the mulching, the broom,
Among the leaf piles, among some talk of maybe getting a riding mower,
Would it have been worth while
To have bitten off the Clif Bar with a smile,
To have squeezed the used coffee grounds into a ball
To roll it toward some acid-loving shrub,
To say, "I'm not Lazarus; I just look half dead;
Come back after I've had my frosty beer" --
If one, settling a shovel by her head,
Should say, "Are you sure you got it all?
Is there more to do, or is that all?"

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the buzzing and the crawling and the sprinkled sap,
After the dust, after the petals, after the slime the snails trail along the floor --
And this, and so much more? --
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the stench of citronella on a porch:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a shovel or throwing down a rake,
And turning toward the rain barrels should say:
"Are you sure that's all?
Because you know it's all coming back tomorrow."

No! I am not a garden weasel, nor was meant to be;
Am a simple homeowner, one that will do
To sweep a walkway, smell a flower or two,
Scour hardware outlets for the proper tool,
Industrious, glad to be of use,
Sweaty, tired, trying not to be a wuss,
Sick of yard work and incredulous
At growth rates that toss me onto my caboose --
Feeling, at times, the Fool.

It grows old ... it grows old ...
When will the weather again be cold?

Shall I cut the branches up? Do I dare to get the spray?
I shall wear my ratty sneakers and let my collar fray.
I shall wait for all those paper wasps to fly away.

I don't think they're leaving any time soon.

I have seen them making chambers on the wall,
Where the spiders set their webs and wait a bit,
For the caterpillars rising from the grit.

We have lingered on our chaises in the shade,
Enraptured by the warmth of paradise.
But I think a plastic garden might be nice.

Elissa Malcohn's Deviations and Other Journeys
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