“Caddy” by Donald Platt

Donald Platt


                           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
                           with Parkinson’s,
one yard short of the grave, wants to practice his hitting, chipping,

                           and putting.
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.
                           I caddy
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
                           free-standing boards

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

                           we’re supposed
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

                           more easily.”
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
                           use euphemism.
Avoid the rough. Lies are preferred. Do not say that Ron is dying

                           of inoperable
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.
                           Even I
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

                           crew socks
and white leather shoes. He sits stooped under a brass clock three feet
                           in diameter

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
                           a pendulum.
The ball rolls over the close-mown turf, which gives and springs

                           beneath our hard
rubber soles. The ball rims the cup, wobbles,
                           and falls

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

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