Matt Ullman

Rookie (9-22-1971 / Chicago)

Your Next Backyard - Poem by Matt Ullman

Picking through the grass, soon to be thinned out,
turned stiff and yellow by the reckoning sun,
I find a dirt-worn penny, the year engraved unreadable,
set apart from the rhododendrons, squirrel corn and joe pye weed
that litter my backyard. I put the silent trespasser
deep inside my pocket, checking every few minutes
to make sure it has not fallen out, to once again intrude.

Thick pines and solid oaks stand guard against trust and fellowship;
I know these trees do not belong here.
Seventy years or so ago, these two houses were of one property.
One family’s relations lived as neighbors well.
Now my neighbor and I have no words for each other.
I don’t know his name. I flip and roll the solitary one-cent piece,
wondering to whom it really belongs.

The purple iris stands apart, thrust against the house,
where I can see it as I walk up the path from my backyard.
There was once a sidewalk here. I can feel the broken stones
covered by grass beneath my naked calloused feet.
Each house has a side door through this alley, facing one another,
seldom remembered and never used; although at night one can hear
the wind whistling between, screen doors all aflutter.

In front of the house are rocks of various shapes and sizes,
lined up beneath our front window, beside the steps from the driveway to door.
Here before we were, they’ll remain after we’re gone.
In two months it will be warm enough, and my son will be old enough,
to stumble outside for infant games in the sunshine,
among the bluebonnets, coneflowers, paintbrushes, lupines and daffodils,
but not here. There is not a good answer for every good question,
my wife and I say. I’m not sure where the moving van will take us.
I still collect every coin I can.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, December 11, 2006

Poem Edited: Wednesday, December 8, 2010

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