I saw an ad in the Stranger (Seattle’s premiere underground paper) for April-ween. It had Jack o’lanterns and angry eyed, sharp toothed bunny’s holding bloody daggers. There was also an oblong pumpkin with carvings that looked like the stripes found on an Easter egg. There were witches holding baskets of hay and eggs under a crescent moon. There were bails of hay everywhere. It was difficult to tell whether we are on the farm in April or October; nobody looked cold or spring-like. As to what April-ween was celebrating exactly, I simply couldn’t tell, but it starts on the 20th and will have lots of beer present (April-ween-toberfest?).
It was a mixing of two celebrations that have nothing at all to do with one another (sort of like celebrating the resurrection of Christ with eggs and chocolate bunnies) for comical effect. It depends how you mix things.
In this poem we have an every day farm activity, something simple and innocent, turned into something hideous and terrifying. A hockey goalie’s mask becomes the symbol of psycho killer. “All work and no play make Johnny a dull boy,” typed ten thousand times repetitively on reams of paper.
As far as imagery is concerned the sense that makes this a truly eerie poem is hearing. “sound of steel on stones/Are sharpening scythes.” “squealing” even the “silent swinging” gives it an air of foreboding. The poet chooses “black horses” to pull the mower, that causes the rat to bleed, the blade to be bloodstained. Even the title makes me think of things scary and supernatural.
Let’s face it mowers are kind of scary when you think about it. How the sharp the blades must be because grass is stubborn. In my mind it was always eerie that the person mowing was so intent on making certain that each and every blade be of uniform length, a crazed personality that would grace the pages of a Stephen King novel, rooting out what is wild and chopping it into domesticity, violencing away the natural impulse, beating into submission until the grass is as beautiful and perfect as astro-turf.
by Jean Toomer
Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones
In their hip-pockets as a thing that’s done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black hourses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds,
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade.