Here in the Midwest they call them dandy-lines, kids and adult neighbors alike. By now I’m used to their quaint pronunciations—kinny-garden, pee-knees… Though I have yet to see one of the kids on my block pick a bunch of them, scrunched into a teeny hand, and turn them over to mom. I do see, however, their fathers furious with their new gas-powered weed whackers, go at them. I have seen them squirt their urine-colored poison at those yellow heads as they peek up through cracks in their sidewalks or the negative space between bricks. Proud, gleaming in the sun, tenacious—I’m talking about the fathers, that is—dutiful and unsentimental, creating space in their lives for beauty.
Although their pronunciations sometimes make me cringe, I don’t do much better. I try slipping in lion’s teeth to my next door neighbor, Helga, who supports herself and her liven-in boyfriend by snipping flowers from the kempt beds up and down the block and then spray painting them (out on her front lawn, in her biker shorts) into solid, eternal, and perfect arrangements. To sell on the craft fair circuit—this week Columbus, next week Wauseon, soon Ann Arbor. When the wind blows, as it always does from Lake Erie, we cough and wheeze and shut ourselves inside to keep from getting high. Lion’s Teeth, I say, but she doesn’t even blink. I don’t know what they’re called in German, whether or not they even proliferate along the Baltic Coast where she grew up. Dandy Lines, Lion’s Teeth, the signifier becomes increasingly slurred and distant the more it’s spoken.
To my other neighbor I try a different tact. He’s short and fat and good-natured and he even lets his back yard grow wild. It’s full of moss and split and broken trees and marshy, mosquito breeding concavities. Rumor has it, there’s even a fox den somewhere back there, though I certainly don’t see any sign of it when I’m in my yard mowing. I’ve only encountered him once away from home, dressed in some sort of vintage tux minus the jacket at a performance of The Magic Flute, so I tell him about dandelions in old England, even throwing caution to the wind and pronouncing it Engolend. I tell him that there are still places in the uplands where there’s an unbroken chain of speakers pre-dating Shakespeare who still call them Golden Lads or Golden Boys. And that when they shed their golden heads and tire of bloom, they call them Chimney Sweeps. But no, he still hates them and views my boys/II/sweeps with scorn. And by extension, me, who lets them thrive.
I do know, though, that none of my own kids, and probably none of the neighbors’ kids can resist the urge to blow those seed sacks away. I see them bowing their lips to the grass, swallowing enough air, and letting loose. It’s this insistent, peremptory, and determined puff that gets to us–the grownups–more than the actual weed, I think. For they barely last out the week, only protrude above the mowed grass when it most needs mowing. We grownups hate them, these weeds, these dandelions, these lion’s teeth, these golden boys, we hate them for their fleet and defiant golden glow. And we hate them because they so brazenly and contemptuously bloom and then unapologetically go to seed. We hate them for their one-night-stand refusal to take life slow.