Bio Note: June here in the woods east of Saugatuck, Michigan, is glorious, especially after decades of grass always needing mowing. Now at this relatively new home the front 'lawn' is 100% ground cover, and the back is like a campground, rustic fire pit, wandering deer, numerous species of birds to identify, and all. The relief amazes me every summer day. But grass and lawn mowing played a huge role in my growing up, and I've come back to it often in various ways in various poems. My most recent of nine collections is Flip Requiem from Dos Madres Press (2020).
Rite of Passage
In Bali, it’s the filing of the canines to limit boys’ wild adolescence. Among Cameroon’s Baka Pygmies it’s the Spirit of the Forest killing boys to be reborn as men. And in rural Illinois, 1964, the May grass green, resilient as Astro Turf, it’s initiation for the fraternity of boys-who-mow. My turn now to untangle the Craftsman from the rakes and bikes, top it off with the dregs of last year’s gasoline, find my chest exceeds the handles, but I can barely pull the cord. It takes twenty tugs, more and less throttle, more and less choke, for the engine to catch, cough, and wreathe me in its blue-black smoke. Then maneuvering the sidewalk is easy, dried leaves and spring debris parting as I push. But once I clear the pavement, bounce down into that first of countless rounds, I become a summer Sisyphus, mini- supplicant leaning into the pleasure of some sadistic god. Luckily it’s post-Ike, post-JFK, so the power-push is soon supplanted by the self-propelled, the Wheel Horse rider. Slow-forward eight years, parents away on vacation, and I take to trick-driving in third gear, careening in circles, graduate at my County job to Farmall tractors, tires taller than fence posts, brush hogs whose twin two-foot blades mangle anything along a country road. One breezy day in May, I find where Midwest rabbits nest— in the green shade of a fencerow crabapple, invisible in the long grass eight feet away from the shoulder. And once I’ve run the lowered mower over them, glanced back to see a dozen brown and blue-red bodies roiling behind the roar, I mimic how other men can keep on mowing.
Originally published in Old Northwest Review
Man to Man with the Folks’ New Condo
I’m glad we have this chance to chat, now, before my parents move in for the rest of their lives. There are things you need to know. Frankly, they may not be easy to get along with. Toast, for example, the making of it, you see, for some reason very important—how brown, how hot, just when. Essential things like that. Remembering past trips, too, can be irritating, the details—which hotel, in Warsaw, for God’s sake, where they first heard my sister would divorce her first husband, and just where that great Dutch cheese place was, there, in the mauve photo album, a few pages after me in a tux, the wedding. They will tell you how they miss all those rooms in the house where they lived for forty years this Wednesday, coincidentally, my mother’s eighty-first birthday. And whenever your ‘foreign’ gardeners mow and trim the prim edges of this emerald lawn my parents will tell you how they dream about their yard—all that grass, the matured maples, the hedge of lilacs defining the lot line out back. You also need to know that you were not their first choice. They wanted the model with the sunroom like their porch, to be closer to the clubhouse, the workshop. But they were told that could take another couple of years, maybe three or four or more, and, as Mom puts it, at this point they can’t gamble, what with Dad likely going totally blind at any time, and her just not able to be their eyes and legs, both, here, in a whole new place.
Originally published in Tipton Poetry Journal
©2021 D. R. James
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