The Weed Whacker Makes Me Yearn for the Scythe

By Lawrence Raab

Featured Art: Valley of Aosta: Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Thunderstorm by Joseph Mallord William Turner

and all the other instruments of silence,
lawns mowed by sheep, for example,
their soft eyes fixed on the earth,
the small sounds of their labor never rising
to the upper floors of some vast country house
where, centuries ago, I’m hard at work
on a new poem for my patron. Right now

I’m distracted by the extravagant view,
which reminds me of the many consolations
of great wealth, although my subject
this morning is neither privilege
nor pleasure, but time—his choice,
following yesterday’s underappreciated ode
on virtue. Tell me, he said, what you think
I should feel, and I wanted to suggest

how much more inspiring I would find
a slightly larger room, one farther away
from the servants, and their whispering.
Ah, the wanton hours—they turn, they laugh! No,
personification irritates him. I must be wary
of the sea itself, restless and unfathomable,
though birds in flight may work, even those sheep

whose ceaseless munching I’ve been trying
all morning not to imagine. The scythe
glides silently through the bending grass.
Or should it be wheat? Yet always it glides.
And clouds pass, as all things will
in this world, I might add, but do not, since death

pleases him only if the thought of it
reminds someone pretty how foolish she is
to cherish that which worms too soon
will take without asking. A good point,
he’ll tell me later, perhaps noting
that “the soft eyes of sheep” strikes him
as unnecessary—too poetic, or else too common,
like the unmown fields, or the scythe
some weary laborer has left gleaming
out there in the noonday sun.

Lawrence Raab is the author of nine books of poems, most recently Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts (Tupelo, 2015), which was longlisted for the National Book Award, and named one of the Ten Best Poetry Books of 2015 by The New York Times, and The Life Beside This One (Tupelo 2017). A new collection, April at the Ruins, will appear from Tupelo in March 2022.

Originally appeared in NOR 4

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