Saturday

Mar. 11, 2006

The Man Into Whose Yard You Should Not hit Your Ball

by Thomas Lux

SATURDAY, 11 MARCH, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Man Into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball" by Thomas Lux from Poetry 180. © Thomas Lux. Reprinted with permission.

The Man Into Whose Yard You Should Not hit Your Ball

each day mowed
and mowed his lawn, his dry quarter-acre,
the machine slicing a wisp
from each blade's tip. Dust storms rose
around the roar, 6 p.m. every day,
spring, summer, fall. If he could mow
the snow he would.
On one side, his neighbors the cows
turned their backs to him
and did what they do to the grass.
Where he worked, I don't know,
but it set his jaw to: tight.
His wife a cipher, shoebox tissue,
a shattered apron. As if
into her head he drove a wedge of shale.
Years later, his daughter goes to jail.
Mow, mow, mow his lawn
gently down a decade's summers.
On his other side lived mine and me,
across a narrow pasture, often fallow-
a field of fly balls, the best part of childhood
and baseball. But if a ball crossed his line,
as one did in 1956,
and another in 1958,
it came back coleslaw—his lawnmower
ate it up, happily
to cut something, no matter
what the manual said
about foreign objects,
stones, or sticks.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1918 that the first cases of what would become the influenza pandemic were reported in the U.S. when 107 soldiers got sick at Fort Riley, Kansas.

It was the worst pandemic in world history. That year the flu killed only 2.5 percent of its victims, but more than a fifth of the world's entire population caught it, and so it's estimated that between 50 million and 100 million people died in just a few months. Historians believe at least 600,000 people died in the United States alone. That's more than the number of Americans killed in combat in all the wars of the 20th century combined.

No one is sure exactly how many people died, because it wasn't even clear at the time what the disease was. One of the strangest aspects of the pandemic in this country was that it was barely reported in the media. President Woodrow Wilson had passed laws to censor all kinds of news stories about the war, and newspaper editors were terrified of printing anything that might cause a scandal.

So as the flu epidemic spread across the country, the newspapers barely commented on it. In large cities, people were dying of the flu so rapidly that undertakers ran out of coffins, streetcars had to be used as hearses, and mass graves were dug. In the fall of 1918, doctors tried to get newspapers to warn people in Philadelphia against attending a parade. The newspapers refused. In the week after the parade, almost five thousand Philadelphians died of the flu. The flu might not have traveled as quickly across the country if troops weren't being mobilized and shipped from base to base.

Among the writers affected by the flu pandemic was Katherine Anne Porter, who grew so sick with the disease that her family had already arranged for her funeral when she managed to recover. The novelist and critic Mary McCarthy got on a train with her parents on October 30, 1918. Her father died of the flu before their train reached Minneapolis. Her mother died a day later. The novelist William Maxwell lost his mother to the flu that year. He said, "It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it ... the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away."


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »