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Mowing Lawn


Growing up, I mowed lawn. Lord knows there was plenty of it
to mow. Two farmsteads, each with yards big as county parks,
as if the people who settled that place had wanted to keep
the fields back so they could sit on the porch without feeling
the crops creeping up close in the evening. It was impossible
to keep the grass down. By the time you reached the end
of the yard it had already grown back back where you began,
like a diaspora of cancer returning to the organ of its origin,
or a fire the crew thinks it put out, growing behind them.
And so we mowed perpetually, my brothers and I,
while dad did the fieldwork. Shirtless, in mesh athletic shorts
that rode halfway up my thigh, in shoes I played ball in,
I sat high in the Farm-all C tractor modified for mowing,
the deck swinging underneath on chains. Whole days,
no, whole years of my life were lost this way, keeping an eye
on the margin between the cut and uncut swaths, practicing
a futile perfection that, days later, would not matter
if it ever had, as when, deep in the privacy of a notebook,
you work over the same lines again and again, knowing
no one will ever read them. But at least the poem achieves
a form that feels final. Lying on my back in bed at night
after a day spent mowing, I could feel the grasses growing,
in that staggered, unkempt way blades of grass grow.
I knew the pride dad took in keeping the farmyards neat,
his frustration with farmers who didn’t seem to care for theirs,
literally. His compliment, whispered as an aside you had to catch
like a ball falling, was, “Yep, got this place mowed up pretty
good.” It was through mowing that I knew early the exhaustion
of tenancy, the way that keeping a place yours keeps you its,
so that you begin to wonder who or what is the possessor
and who or what is the possessed. My dad keeps a smaller yard
now that he keeps mowed up pretty good. His sons live in cities
where grass is given no quarter save for in the cemeteries
and those empty parks like patches of blindness where the poor
nod off on benches and empty swings sway on chains
and there is a budget to pay grown men to keep the grass down.
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