I based my poem, “Abundance,” on a story that a man once told me about his father, an immigrant from Indian who worked as a physicist. He told me that his father was religious and frugal and wouldn’t even turn on the heat because he thought it was exorbitant. He warmed his baths with boiled water from a tea kettle.
Many people think of scientists as atheists, which is one reason I found his story compelling. Also, the father had plenty of money, so his decision to live without (what most people would consider) basic necessities was certainly not a “sour grapes” response to his financial circumstances. The other fascinating part of the story is that the father felt that, as an American, he should be free not to mow his grass. He had even gone to court to defend his American right to a natural lawn. The man told me that this belief particularly bothered his mother, who had since divorced his father.
In the first stanza of the poem, I discuss the speaker’s frugal background and his desire to please God: “Using the heater, / offends God, he claims, / we have enough.” In the second stanza, I describe his lawn that “spirals / upward,” which is literal but also foreshadows his artistic homage to heaven, in the last stanza.
In the third stanza, we can see that the speaker’s desire to connect with God keeps him up at night: “he worries if God / can touch the grass from / space.” (I chose the word “space” instead of “heaven” because its tone is more scientific than religious, and it also provides a better rhythm.) I also connect his actions to the people around him: “He hears his neighbor / shuffling under the moon. / Just keep it off my porch!”
In the fourth stanza, he misunderstands his ex-wife’s voice message, “For God’s sake, grow / up!” with an answer to his anxiety that the grass is too far away from God. In the last stanza, he ties the ends of his long blades of grass to helium balloons so that the grass reaches up toward the heavens. I liked the idea that God could get a closer look at the grass, if it were extended further, but that it had to remain earthbound. I played with the contrast between the ephemeral (God and sky) and the concrete (humans and the earth).