Learned today that our next-door neighbor died of COVID a couple weeks ago. I mistook the clearing out of the driveway and carport as their summer cleaning. But no. It came on quick, his wife said. 102 fever. By morning breathing trouble. That day to the hospital. Seven days on a vent — he never came off.
This isn’t one of those “I’m sorry” things. This is a strange county with more trump supporters who look sideways at my family than not. But this neighbor was one of those that surprised me. I initially cast stereotypes on him. Braced myself for some nonsense. But he wasn’t who I assumed he was. He was the neighbor who made sure it was ok if his sprinkler got my side of the lawn wet because my dogs might get muddy paws. He was the only neighbor in this god-forsaken, trash-burning-obsessed county who always asked if it was ok to burn. To let him know if the smoke was bothering us. Who offered us the use of his tiller at planting time. So I wrote this:
Light blue pickup
in pieces under a makeshift carport,
Rusted brackets with
razor-sharp edges from
the hard Georgia rain,
donor parts for his old mower.
Garden tools with split wooden handles
lined up by purpose,
More than once
sliced his calloused palms during spring planting.
Tetanus breeds like squirrels scatter,
Pulling sweet beans from twisted vines that traverse his chain-link fence.
Three years my neighbor to the East.
His sun-seared farmer’s tan, stained work shirt,
I mistook for bigotry.
Assumptions skew reality.
Nurturing neighbors like plants,
with quiet concern,
he grieved the loss
of last summer’s crop
succumbed to midnight marauders.
But this spring.
This spring was rich soil,
Afternoon showers ushering tomatoes, peppers, beans skyward.
And this summer.
A harvest cut short.
Crops giving way to
Sprouting fever, chills, choking, gasping.
Gone, the pickup,
Gone, the mower,
Gone the tiller and tools.
Ashes to ashes
vent to vent,
lights a path home.
And who will tend
To his garden now?