by Dan O’Brien
Their lawn was much greener than ours, thanks to all
their weekend ministrations, down on their knees
behind the high thorn hedge in short-sleeves, dungarees
and John Deere cap; and she in her jogging suit
always, smiling sweetly with the elderly
toy poodle of the Hebraic name suffering
on his long chain beside them in the deep grass:
they’d give us tomatoes always at the end
of summer, robust, ripe and perfectly red.
We’d set them on the windowsill that looked out
on our mostly unkempt backyard. We were scared
of them because what made our neighbors’ garden
grow so well was all the chemicals they’d use.
Only some Mormons from Utah . . . our father
would say, and shake his head with disbelief at
the trust of such a people! as if they thought
they’d never die, they were loved by God so well.
These were the people my father could admire.
And for a while we were almost like them. Each
Sunday afternoon we’d entertain two
boys in their funereal suits; we kept their Book
of Mormon on my mother’s bedside table,
as our basement filled up with buckets full of
dried milk and wild honey, brown rice and water—
enough to keep us rest assured we’d survive
that nuclear fire God had promised for next time.
But something stopped them. The missionaries stopped
coming, and our Book of Mormon disappeared
inside my mother’s bedside table, beneath
her diaphragm and self-help books, all her unused
diaries. All that food we ate up by degrees
without joy or comment. Our mother would say
she’d been the one to disagree with their law
that all wives must go to hell—or wherever
their husbands are sent. It’s not fair, she would say,
to punish a woman for her husband’s sins.
Dan O’Brien’s poems have appeared recently in 32 Poems, Crab
Orchard Review, Greensboro Review, and MARGIE. He recently
served as the Hodder Fellow playwright-in-residence at Princeton
University and the Djerassi Fellow in Playwriting at University of
Wisconsin-Madison, and this summer he will be on the playwriting
faculty at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His new play, The
Cherry Sisters Revisited, will premier at the Humana Festival of
New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2010.
Our next door neighbors growing up were Mormons, a pretty
rare condition in our town. They had a big family, just like us,
but they seemed much happier, kinder, to an almost unreal
degree. For a while my parents flirted with joining the Mormon
church, and then for mysterious reasons, at least to me, it never
happened. This mystery is the inspiration and the meaning of
the poem, I think.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 5, Number 1
Copyright © 2010
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors