Issue 33 – 2022 – John Kinsella – Grass Cutting and Andy Warhol’s Sleep

<< Issue 33

John Kinsella

Grass Cutting and Andy Warhol’s Sleep



Look for patterns, create patterns. I rise to another day of it, back into grass-crusted clothes, stiff and aching from days previous. It’s an issue of gradient and rocks. Many rocks that hold the valley wall together are held by the valley wall. Cut with the pattern of grass, some of it over my shoulder. I have slept poorly and it’s an early start. Magpies, relying on facial recognition during nesting season, are scanning particular memories of me from last year, the year before.


Doe with pouch so full of joey it’s an articulated body. Sway bars in place heading down the hill. I will work away from its direction.


Ideally, above level of habitation for bobtails and other small ground-dwellers. Ideally, larger creatures will move away fast.


In and out of shadows. What thick high grass hides. Diurnal and nocturnal: I planned the approach, the schema and motifs awake through the night unable to sleep and when lapsing shocked awake with cramps.


Uprooted jam tree roots make sharp spikes.


Fuel, machine, consequence. But better than spray, disruption to DNA, consequence. Fuel, machine, consequence — to defuse the irony I abjure car, abjure travel, abjure fuel in as many other forms as I can manage. To compensate like carbon credits which we know are designed to alleviate abstractions and not take a step back. Taking a step back I will fall down a slope into sharp rocks not rounded by lichen encrustations.


Machine scythe close to lichen, moss. Destabilising. Machine scythe with safety gear in the unsafe conditions. Alleviate?


Red-capped robin ventures over broken grass, torn grass, insects rising into dispersal pattern.


Two small burrows — too large for mice, too small for rabbits, even for bungarras. Maybe a marsupial. Two in secluded spots just before the gradient increases.


Every year’s the same and not the same. Repetition is a truth that metaphors attach to. Everything is like something else, as well.


Slipping down steep bank into variable granite. Broken toe. Pushing on. Slipzone.


Distress is stripping a York gum or jam tree sapling back to its base. It will revive, it will come again. They will.


Following the kangaroo trails then breaking away to leave their map-memories intact.


Thinking of Andy Warhol’s Sleep. I don’t sleep and for all my aches induced by rocks, hillside and time, I find a medium between states. The wire grille over my face protects against kicked stones, but sometimes sap splatters through, sharp things find a sway under. The rise and fall. The sunscreen in the curls of white chest hair Tracy says is getting more gnarled as I age and through which grass seeds tangle — debris clings. Rise and fall of chest as heart beats fast at a trickier steep part: the danger of waking sleep, to dream but also be paying careful attention.


Thinking of revolutions per minute, the earplugged buzz that grounds away, the tooth-root shape of fallen tree roots, the broken limbs hanging on by threads that aren’t bridges, aren’t nerves. I am wondering about Tübingen, about Cambridge, about the war in Ukraine, about the splitting of reactor vessels, about the lust of the Albanese government for missiles and nuclear submarines, of an arms industry burgeoning in times of stress all times of stress and pain. Ship of state, valley, hillside, winter creek, brook, river, and I tumbled down into the city in a cloud of maroon dust as the trimmer strikes too deep. Shadows of sleep.


The smell of cut grass and stench of two-stroke and exhaust; particulate lining mucous membranes. A cloudless sky. I will cough up my contradictions for weeks, and still find no way through these specific conditions, the legal constraints. My responsibilities.


I am awake so no one is watching me without my knowing, I imagine. But out at the ‘far reaches’ of the block I am alone cutting and following patterns. I think of where fire will come should it come, and what effect the shaved earth will have in slowing it down, lessening its intensity. Not one is watching but I am watching myself, my actions, holding myself responsible to do a good job, especially where others won’t see the work I’ve done, am doing.


I am thinking of my many mowing poems. They are all different. This is different. This one is about Andy Warhol’s Sleep under different conditions.


A few days ago we saw a young echidna charging across the gravel and into the grass to funnel towards its sources. Every now and again it would halt and hunker down, giving the impression of sleep when it was startlingly awake. This block the bed of many creatures. I took the camera out and took some blurred images which will transform into impressions of something else. The aptitude of sleep in full light. The burning of my face and neck and V of chest for all the protection.


The next section of the hoax (or ‘attributed to) Rimbaud — La chasse spirituelle — I need to type from my notes is ‘Eden’. There are many more lupins (so hard to cut) than last year, and again more than the year before. Blue flowers scattered at such velocity cannot rain down. And such moments are bereft of what holds the fresco of native and introduced, that articulates what sinews and fibres between intruder and endemic life.


There is a stench of herbicides drifting into the future, but that’s not our crime. The line trimmer would lacerate me if I lost control. The line itself. Or the eschewed metal cutter — a spark risk as the valley dries. Consequences. Such as my heartbeat and body temperature actually lifting if I lapse into sleep: I run rings when stretched out, following the patterns through grass: swirls, tunnels, partings, twists and turns.


Exhausted, driven to the edge of sleep in the heat, I open my ears to the silence of machine, and am filled with the call of the whadjaluk — red wattlebird. And now I remember the first flowers of the bottlebrush were out this morning. I will not be cutting them, they are not grass, and they are not forbidden. They are the inert fire and we are safe with them.



John Kinsella’s recent books of poetry include Insomnia (Picador, 2019/Norton, 2020), Brimstone: a book of villanelles (Arc, 2020) and Aftering Delmore Schwartz’s A Season in Hell [Rimbaud] Translation (Equipage, 2021). Recent critical titles include Beyond Ambiguity: tracing literary sites of activism (Manchester University Press, 2021) and Legibility: an anti-fascist poetics (Palgrave, 2022).

<< Issue 33