Grammar of the Lawn

What the grass says in Kaskaskia is not what the grass says in Cascade; what it says in Sugar City is not what it says in Magic City. And what it says in Dog Walk is not what it says in Possum Trot. You think there’s no grass in the desert but the grass tells me otherwise. It grows timidly near the edge of burrows, a mumbling gray grass browsed by creatures. Acres of it shimmer behind chain link fences, near faux stucco houses. Grass struck dumb most days. Sober grass that knows its place.  Shorn very short. Lovely, we say. The eye doesn’t mind but some ancient organ in the soul objects. Even in those who stride across wearing spikes, nine iron in hand. Subdued grass, not tamed grass. Beneath the lawn is lawlessness.

The grass on my block is joint-grass, Bermuda grass, crabgrass, clover, chicory, plantain, ragweed, chickweed. Cut ragged. A faux lawn. Once when the city came to mow a man on the crew said look at these grasses, talking trash because they are trash. The trees they grow beneath are trash. But that tree is called a tree of heaven, I said, and it talks like it knows the place. In China, they use it to cure sadness. In China, the mimosa’s perfume cures melancholy, and its silvery bark cures melancholy. In America, the pink flowers are trash and the silver bark is trash and messages go uncoded. Wild grass is catching. Wild grass converses with the world like wild yeasts and viruses do, like very little girls do. It colonizes the side of the highway, even in fancy places. Johnsongrass with its musty tassels and the light blue of chicory and yellow polka dots of celandine. Even zoysia has its limits. In fall, it says: I do not want to. I click my chlorophyll off. Don’t feel like it. I slumber. It’s cold. Here I go. And I go yellow, yellow, yellow. Not till March do I wake. Or April. Maybe.

Actual Jennifer (Secret Jennifer)

There’s a tiny star splinter stuck in Jennifer’s eye; she was born with it. She gets the same kind of migraines saints do. She was born with a diamond in her eye, a magic lens. When she’s sick, she sees through walls and tells you what you’re about to say.

(Even people who don’t know I’m Jennifer’s sister call me Jennifer when they forget my name. She’s a year younger. My parents were off in their naming and timing. She won’t tell me what people call her when they forget that she’s Jennifer.)

My sister calls radio stations and wins tickets every time. She won’t say if that’s dumb luck or smart luck. She quilted a dress from all her backstage passes. She wears it to concerts, though it’s so stiff she can’t dance.

(My father says when I was born he set me on his knee and asked, what’s your name, little girl? And I made a noise and named myself. The saint with my name was the teenage wife of a soldier. She comforted St. Victor. They lashed her to two bent palms and cut the rope. I’m a Gemini. I’ve always lived on corners. I dream about rained-on maps, roads bleeding through both sides.)

Jennifer found a loose diamond on the floor of a disco. It strobed at me, she said. How could you miss it? It’s easy to be lucky. You’re not looking. You’re not trying. You can’t win if you don’t enter.

(Negative ESP is real, I said, and I proved it: One month of scratch-offs, sweepstakes, crackerjacks, raffles, roulette, call-ins, ring toss, horseraces, bingo, bell jars, coin flips…  I played, I played, I lost.)

Jennifer flew to England. They were down to one engine over the ocean. Secret Jennifers shake or drink, but Actual Jennifers know their luck, and sleep. When there’s a diamond floating in your eye, it fills your sight with the rainbows hiding in prisms.

(My name means crown. What floats in my eye? A small cork heart and its shadow. A piece of wayward tinsel. A thistle seed. A fat green question mark. On the back of the retina, burnt image of my mother and father before I was born. My sister, cartwheeling to arrive right after. What’s your secret? I ask her. Rabbit, Rabbit, she says.)

Copyright © 2018, Otis Nebula Press. All rights reserved.


Stefene Russell is a St. Louis-based writer and poet. She is the author of Inferna (Intagliata Press, 2013), The Possum Codex (Otis Nebula, 2015) and 47 Incantatory Essays (Spartan Press). She is Laumeier Sculpture Park's 2018 poet-in-residence and an incorrigible walker. 

Ryan Francesconi