Hollies by Joshua Jones
I hate their colonies of wasps. I hate
their arrogant trunks and stems. I hate
their living leaves like little cups of rage.
I hate even their unseasonable dead,
blown through the door like crisp rafts
in a high wind. So when we moved in, I swore
I’d kill the hollies, but, brushing the mulch
aside, I found their secret roots reached
deeper than I thought into the ruddy clay,
saw the long day of their destruction, filthy
in full sun for four craters of dirt. I left their bed
alone, and the grass runners slithered
through the cracks of the brick
planter until they threatened to choke
the bushes out. I hoped they would.
The next door neighbors, soon after,
staked their “yard of the month” sign
facing us so we could see the fruits of their
landscaper’s labor. Then they complained,
told the couple across the street that people
like us have low standards. We must rent.
I’d love to know what they’re hiding
in their marigolds—the same mounds of crumpled
yellow tissue paper that edged the beds my dad
tended for hours, cross legged and shirtless,
piling the cheatgrass and thistle sprouts
in the trashcan lid beside him. I’d cut the lawn
and try not to shower his back with the clippings
or topple his plastic cup of tea, and when I finished
he’d just have started the roses, working his fingers
through the soil for every strand of alien root.
Mower stashed, I hid inside with a coke trying
to ignore Mom telling me again “He looks
like a fat little Buddha squat in the bushes.”
And maybe he was, or tried to be, midway
between the austerities of our company
and his office’s luxurious quiet. If we’d left him
out there one weekend longer, we’d have seen
lotus petals rain from the sweetgum trees.
He’d ordain the whole family, teaching
us with a twirl of a peach blossom. I wish
he had so I could go inside and watch
the lawn invade. He so intimately knew
that yard —when every flower needed care
or any branch pruning, when to call his
mystery men to drop the heap of mulch
at the driveway’s end and how
many days it took to disperse into
the garden’s contours, that when he left,
it seemed the plants would shatter the house
in rebellion. The roses, disobedient to his years
of trellising, writhed between the fence slats.
Evanescent mushrooms peeped behind
every tree in sick pleasure. His hollies,
tame hedges under his careful trimming,
grew monstrous, eclipsing second story windows.
As I jab at the earth with this fancy trowel
that promised to be everything—shovel, hammer,
ruler, and saw—I remind myself that mine
are of a different variety, not the voracious
trees that kept the light out and harbored
a surfeit of skunks. To save these shrubs
I hate, I’ll kill what grubs I find, pinching their
middles till their neon insides burst
from both ends. I’ll unweave the grass’s
perverse tapestry with a curse for every thread.
Joshua Jones received his MFA from UMass Boston and is pursuing a PhD at the University of North Texas. His poems have appeared in The Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and Salamander among others. He's the current book reviews editor for The American Literary Review.