Robin York  © 2007 All Rights Reserved

This Kind of Attention

Each Sunday, my father mowed the lawn
twice: up and down and back and forth—a ritual
of precision. The double passing of blade
across blade brought him closer to perfection
than any other day of the week would allow.
When he poured the clippings into the barrel,

the grass slid out in gasps and clumps, the barrel
full with the warm smell of wet green. Our lawn
was small and square, so it would allow
this kind of attention, this weekly ritual
performed to appease the demon of perfection.
The mower was a Sears Craftsman, the blade

dull from the slow and gentle wear of blades
of grass caught and cut, so he’d barrel
across the yard, the speed making up for imperfection,
the steel whisper of the reeling rotors of the lawn-
mower swelling like a chant in a ritual,
the rustling chirr slowing as he turned. I allow

the sound to speak to me now, allow
its sharp sibilance to cut me, the thin blade
of his longing and loss: there’s no ritual
that could satisfy his need, no way to bear all
the weight of want—no one to call on
to tread the tight path to perfection,

because the demon of perfection
would forgive no weakness, would swallow
finally all followers, as the barrel on
the driveway swallowed the grass. Later, blades
of light slanting, the dusk melancholy as burial,
I’d sit in the evening’s summer chill,

warm on the red bricks. I had no such ritual,
but I knew already the desire for perfection—
the calm promise of geometry. I remember all
I wanted was order—the meaningless hallow
of routine, safe from the sharp and reeling blade
of our lives’ disarray. I wanted dullness, a vast lawn

of ordinariness, as strict and empty as ritual. Allow
me such perfection, I’d think, praying to the grass blades
and the garbage barrel and our quiet, well-trimmed lawn.

Christopher Cunningham
Copyright © 2007


Christopher Cunningham was born in California and educated at Stanford University and Duke University, where he received a Ph.D. in Literature. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Meridian, Ninth Letter, Best New Poets 2006, and elsewhere.  A Pushcart nominee, he teaches English at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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