On the driving range’s
fairway, hundreds of yellow balls sprout like buttercups
out past the white-on-black
50-, 60-, and 90-yard signs. My 89-year-old father-in-law
one yard short of the grave, wants to practice his hitting, chipping,
Erwin can’t drive, so I drive him in his old Volvo station wagon
with his battered
black and red leather bag of golf clubs to the driving range.
for him, carry the bag that he can’t lift. Bored, knowing nothing
of the art of golf,
I read the large sign, TODAY’S COURSE RULES, posted on two
whose hinged tops lean together to form an upside-down V. I have to ask
Erwin to explain
the rules. The first is CARTS SCATTER. “Oh, that means
to drive our golf carts in the most unpredictable patterns possible
across the fairway
so we don’t make ruts by all going the same way.” The course rules
start to sound
like parables, some parabola formed by the intersection of truth’s
right circular cone
with a plane parallel to the truth’s sides. PREFERRED LIES,
the second rule,
Erwin says, “means that you’re permitted to pick up any ball you hit
into the rough
and change its position, its lie, so that you can hit it
The course rules seem like rules for old age. Never mention death
directly. Erwin speaks
of his friend Ron, who “went to heaven two weeks ago.” Always
Avoid the rough. Lies are preferred. Do not say that Ron is dying
lung cancer and is under hospice care. Remark merely that he
seems “to be failing,”
as if life were an exam for which he hadn’t crammed half enough.
can figure out the next two rules. PLEASE REPAIR BALL MARKS
means to replace
the divots and stomp them down with cleated golf shoes. Leave the course
as you found it.
Make amends for the wrongs you have done the good ground.
KEEP PACE OF PLAY
is the final rule. Don’t go slow, neither hurry your game. Wait
for partners not as fast
as you. Not to be platitudinous, but patience is all. You must last the full
18 holes. Erwin
tires after hitting six balls down the driving range. It’s hot.
He sits in the shade
of the green kiosk, sips ice water from a conical paper cup
he’s filled at the five-gallon
yellow Igloo container. He takes off his khaki golf cap, which says
in blue letters
U.S. OPEN 2006 WINGED FOOT surrounding the logo of a gold bag
of golf clubs
with wings. His winged feet are lead, size 12, encased in white
and white leather shoes. He sits stooped under a brass clock three feet
so all golfers can see it from across the fairways.
Its black hands
say 9:27 on a Wednesday morning in early June.
is blooming. I inhale its thin fragrance like the perfume of a young woman
with long tan legs
in white, crisp-pressed culottes, who sways so close by us
on her way
to the practice putting green that I can see the sweat pearl
her upper lip.
Erwin wants to follow her and putt too. I heave the awkward
bag of clubs
onto my left shoulder. It bangs heavily against my hip.
The practice green
has four holes, four yellow flags that cast their long, westward-pointing
shadows like giant
sundials. No one knows the hour that death will come, a snickering
caddy, asking you to choose
a 9-iron or lob wedge for that last swing. From the bag that I
hold out to him,
Erwin takes his brass-plated putter. His first putt goes three feet
short. He shrugs.
“Watch this!” he says and aims for the far flag, eight yards away.
His humpbacked shadow
hunches over the small white ball. He swings his putter like
The ball rolls over the close-mown turf, which gives and springs
beneath our hard
rubber soles. The ball rims the cup, wobbles,
in. I cheer. Erwin stands as straight as his osteoporosis
will let him.
He bends, picks up a forgotten tee, says, “Finders keepers,” grins.
—from Rattle #37, Summer 2012