Against Black Cattle, Reading the Egrets’ Chalky Script

Here’s a new poem that could use a helping hand…

Against Black Cattle, Reading the Egrets’ Chalky Script

In Oklahoma there’s plenty of room,
particularly when viewed from inside a car
loaded for a projected life as crowded
with contingencies as a Swiss Army knife.
Hurtling nearly 80 with few signs
or fellow travelers for correction; then
the constant grass seems a shame to split
on either side. Trees like party guests
huddling in riddled green jackets;
gold-bottomed clouds marooned in the slipping sky,
enough for a whole book of poems
if somebody would write them.
At the Mexican drive-in just outside the state line,
a boy with a prairie-practiced squint passes enchiladas and malts.
If place could be fastened like a nicotine patch
to the heart. Either abandon by omission or else admit all:
pollen imprint of an oak leaf on the car’s black hood,
dusky air cupping the cheek, grease-blotched paper bag
and inside four taquitos, curled tight as scrolls.

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4 responses to “Against Black Cattle, Reading the Egrets’ Chalky Script

  1. First of all, I like it and want to see more drafts. Your lyrical descriptive passages don’t sound trite, though occasionally overcomposed (“Prairie-practiced squint”). I argued with myself for a while about lines 11 and 12 (“enough for a whole book of poems/ if somebody would write them”), and though I know exactly what you mean–a proposition very tempting in terms of its reliable effect on the reader–I don’t know if the tone fits. A little too wonder-y. As far as editing goes, you might try leaving that part out for a minute and re-reading without it, just to see how it goes.

    The point of the poem, its turning point and central intelligence, comes only in the last five lines, beginning with “If place could be fastened…” and ending at the poem’s end. I explain it like this: the first four lines of the poem are setting and exposition. The middle part (between the first four and the last five) are essentially interchangeable details that nonetheless serve the necessary function of pre-answering the question of why you would want to fasten a place to your heart at all. The last five create not only a reason for the poem to exist (you want to fasten it to your heart), but also a problem that creates conflict in the world of the poem (there isn’t any real way to fasten it to your heart).

    The very important line, “either abandon by omission or else admit all,” may be flying too far under the radar. It synthesizes your feeling for the place with the problems of writing and memory, suggesting that you may either leave the place behind, wholesale, or carry every detail with you (hence the final sequence of ennumerated descriptions). Tone-wise, again, I think it isn’t quite present with the rest of the poem. The oddly stilted, fortune-cookie quality in it’s intoned somehow makes the eye skip it, instead of locking on to it. It has to be reread a few times to be understood, which makes for a slightly jerky first scan, given the generally prose-like pace of the rest of the poem.

    I have more to say, but I’ll leave it there for now. Let me know what you think of all this.

  2. I think you have some real gem lines in here. Temptation for me is to make the Mexican drive-in its own stanza. If so, make the first stanza a little more easily readable and remove hesitations for the reader — this will enhance the lyrical/pastoral quality that you need for the second stanza. The first sentence was a little difficult to follow, something about the area around the Swiss Army Knife screwed me up and caused me to re-read. The first sentence in general has some good things in wait, but aren’t realized in this draft. While I like the Swiss Army Knife comparison, there could be more done to set up the poem’s conclusion; here you are, going down the interstate with all of your possessions, ready for any contingency — there’s some interesting interplay that could be had with your stuff and willingness to trade it away for the complete book of poems of Oklahoma. Or how your Swiss Army Knife car didn’t really prepare you for the contingency of ineffable sunsets and landscapes. The poem really picks up steam as it goes along (by the time “marooned” makes a great appearance, you are at full go); you should spend more time on the opening, not necessarily to make it bolder, but subtle yet foreshadowy and all that. A well-written beginning would give your conclusion even more power.

  3. thanks you two — these comments are really helpful. i’m reworking…

  4. Pingback: Where the wind comes sweeping down the plains « No Record Press: The Blog

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