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Suburban Pastoral

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Twilight folds over houses on our street;
its hazy gold is gilding our front lawns,
delineating asphalt and concrete
driveways with shadows. Evening is coming on,
quietly, like a second drink, the beers
men hold while rising from their plastic chairs
to stand above their sprinklers, and approve.

Soon the fireflies will rise in lucent droves—
for now, however, everything seems content
to settle into archetypal grooves:
the toddler's portraits chalked out on cement,
mothers in windows, finishing the dishes.
Chuck Connelly's cigarette has burned to ashes;
he talks politics to Roger in the drive.

"It's all someone can do just to survive,"
he says, and nods—both nod—and pops another
beer from the cooler. "No rain. Would you believe—"
says Chuck, checking the paper for the weather.
At least a man can keep his yard in shape.
Somewhere beyond this plotted cityscape
their sons drive back and forth in borrowed cars:

how small their city seems now, and how far
away they feel from last year, when they rode
their bikes to other neighborhoods, to score
a smoke or cop a feel in some girl's bed.
They tune the radio to this summer's song
and cruise into the yet-to-exhale lung
of August night. Nothing to do but this.

These are the times they'd never dream they'll miss—
the hour spent chasing a party long burned out,
graphic imagined intercourse with Denise.
This is all they can even think about,
and thankfully, since what good would it do
to choke on madeleines of temps perdu
when so much time is set aside for that?

Not that their fathers weaken with regret
as nighttime settles in—no, their wives
are on the phone, the cooler has Labatt
to spare; at nine the Giants play the Braves.
There may be something to romanticize
about their own first cars, the truths and lies
they told their friends about some summer fling,

but what good is it now, when anything
recalled is two parts true and one part false?
When no one can remember just who sang
that song that everybody loved? What else?
It doesn't come to mind. The sprinkler spits
in metronome; they're out of cigarettes.
Roger folds up his chair, calls it a day.

The stars come out in cosmic disarray,
and windows flash with television blues.
The husbands come to bed, nothing to say
but 'night . Two hours late—with some excuse—
their sons come home, too full of songs and girls
to notice dew perfect its muted pearls
or countless crickets singing for a mate.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the August 2004 issue of Poetry magazine

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Suburban Pastoral

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