Better a long lawn.
"Better a long lawn." RS

The pandemic's gifts are small, rare, and weightless compared to the heavy burden of death and economic hardship born by millions around the globe, but I count the total lack of landscaping at local parks among them.

The parks are letting the lawns grow long, and I'm loving it. Yesterday evening, while waiting to meet a friend on the mound at Cal Anderson Park, I couldn't help but "lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass," Whitman-style, for a few minutes. I know we're supposed to #KeepItMoving, but I confess I just strapped on my mask and kept my distance as I blissed out. When my friend finally arrived, she dove face-first into the long, soft tufts before even saying hello. Our conversation about our long-lawn lust reminded her of one of her favorite prose poems by Lydia Davis. It's called "A Mown Lawn," and you can find in, The Best American Poetry 2001, available at local bookstores. It might also be in her Collected Stories, which is certainly worth your time.

A few notes, first from Davis herself:

• Let's just get a bit of terminology out of the way real quick: a "prose poem" is just a poem without line breaks. Though it's perhaps a difference without distinction, prose poems just feel more like poems than "short-short stories" because they move more like poems. That is, linguistic logics dictate their charge down the page. There are very long papers written about this subject, but they are boring. For our purposes, if something feels like a poem, then it is.

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• In the case of "A Mown Lawn," Davis uses associative logic and word play to jump from sentence to sentence as she slowly and brilliantly develops a thesis linking America's obsession with mown lawns to American imperialism, so that by the end of the poem the following passage makes absolute sense to you:

Certainly a lawman could and did mow a lawn. Law and order could be seen as starting from lawn order, valued by so many Americans...Did more lawn in America make more lawmen in America? Did more lawn make more Nam? More mown lawn made more long moan, from her. Or a lawn mourn. So often, she said, Americans wanted more mown lawn. All of America might be one long mown lawn.

• In her interview with Al Filreis, cofounder of PennSound, an invaluable archive of poetry readings and recordings, Davis calls "A Mown Lawn" one of maybe two of the only political poems she's ever written. She also does all my explication work for me when she says that her use of circular logic conveys her sense of frustration with language's inability to create real political change in the world: "I can play with language all I want, but it won't change these mown lawns."