Mowing

By Robert Wrigley b. 1951 Robert Wrigley
Sleepy and suburban at dusk,
I learn again the yard’s
geometry, edging around the garden   
and the weedy knots of flowers, circling   
trees and shrubs, giving
a wide berth to the berry patch,
heavy and sprawled out of its bounds.   
Shoving such a machine
around a fairway of dandelions,
it is easy to feel absurd.
The average lawn, left alone
one hundred years, could become
a hardwood forest. An admirable project.   
Still I carry on, following week on week   
the same mowing pattern, cutting edges,   
almost sprinting the last narrow swaths.   
And tonight, as I mow over
the bushels of fallen peaches,
sending pits soaring over the neighbors’ fences,   
seems hardly any different.
But on one crooked march I walk
across the thin hidden hole
to a yellowjacket hive. The blade pulls   
them up from their deep sweet chamber   
just as my bare legs go by.

A bee lands heavily,
all blunder and revenge, and the sting   
is a quick embrace and release,
like the dared kid’s run and touch   
of a blind man. I’m blind now
with the shock and pain of it,
howling in a sprint toward the house,
the mower flopped on its side, wild blade loose   
in the darkening air.
                                 Later,
the motor sputtered quiet, starved by tilt,   
I’m back in the twilight,
a half-dozen stings packed in wet tobacco,   
carrying a can of gasoline, a five-foot torch.   
The destruction is easy: shove can
slow to entranceway lip, pull
back and light torch, use torch
to tip can. One low whump and it’s over.   
A few flaming drones flutter out and fall.   
Stragglers, late returners, cruise
wide circles around the ruins.
In the cool September night they fly
or die. In the morning I finish my chores.

All the way to winter the blackened hole   
remains. On Christmas Eve a light   
late snow covers it and all
the lawn’s other imperfections: crabgrass   
hummocks, high maple roots,
the mushroom-laden fairy ring that defies   
obliteration and appears every spring   
more visible than ever. Standing
in the window, the scent
of pine powerful around me,
the snap of wood undoing itself in the stove,   
I wonder at this thin and cold
camouflage, falling,
gradually falling over what has gone   
and grown before. And I hear
that other rattle and report, that engine
driven by another fire. I think of a gold   
that is sweet and unguent, a gold   
that is a blaze of years behind me.   
I hear wind in its regular passes   
blowing across the roof,
feel in my legs a minute and icy tingling,
as though I have stood too long
in one place or made again another wrong step,   
as though the present itself   
were a kind of memory, coiled, waiting,   
dying to be seen from tomorrow.

Robert Wrigley, “Mowing” from Moon in a Mason Jar. Copyright © 1986 by Robert Wrigley. Reprinted with the permission of author and the University of Illinois Press.

Source: Moon in a Mason Jar (University of Illinois Press, 1988)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Robert Wrigley b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Nature, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Gardening, Activities

 Robert  Wrigley

Biography

Robert Wrigley was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. He was drafted in 1971, but was discharged as a conscientious objector. The first in his family to graduate from college, and the first male for generations to escape work in a coal mine, Wrigley earned his MFA from the University of Montana, where he studied with Madeline DeFrees, John Haines, and Richard Hugo.

Wrigley believes that poetry can influence the world and . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Gardening, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.