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Mowing

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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)
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Mowing

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