After dinner, the teenage girls headed out directly for the croquet course. The younger daughter is chief of the course, arranging those well-bent wickets in a pattern that defies the standard croquet set-up. Our tiny lawn is bounded by trees on two sides, a driveway on the third, and an apple tree so overgrown its branches nearly barricade access beneath its boughs. This child delights in courses to maximize the obstacles: balls traverse impossibly steep hummocks or get lost in the jewelweed.
Folding laundry from the clothesline on the upstairs balcony, I listened to the girls laugh. I remembered a few years ago, I struggled with a problem that loomed insurmountably. I railed; I outright whined. Then, one mid-morning, it occurred to me this was my challenge, and whether I chose that difficulty or not was irrelevant. None of us get to choose our fiercest demons: no one would chose a devastating disease, a malformed body, a pregnancy gone awry, a horrific car accident.
My chore finished tonight, I leaned on the railing and closed my eyes. The crickets sang their odd castanet-like music, rattling towards the end of the summer. Mid-August already: robins no longer trill in the maple tree. The thrush is voiceless. In the cool evening, the girls laughed and called to each other, their well-used mallets thwack-thwacking against the wooden balls, moving them in the course they chose, over the crooked lawn they did not. The stars, one, two, three, rubbed brightly out of the dusk.
My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter!…
–– Elizabeth Alexander, “Butter”