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.

—first published in Old Northwest Review

About the Author

D. R. James’s latest of ten collections are Mobius Trip and Flip Requiem (Dos Madres Press, 2021, 2020); his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free, fun, and printable-for-folding at Origami Poems Project; and individual poems have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and journals (including Apricity, November 11, 2020). He lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan.
See more of his work below