American Life in Poetry: Column 032


Descriptions of landscape are common in poetry,
but in "Road Report" Kurt Brown adds a twist
by writing himself into "cowboy country." He
also energizes the poem by using words we
associate with the American West: Mustang,
cactus, Brahmas. Even his associations--such as
comparing the crackling radio to a shattered
rib--evoke a sense of place.

Road Report

Driving west through sandstone's
red arenas, a rodeo of slow erosion
cleaves these plains, these ravaged cliffs.
This is cowboy country. Desolate. Dull. Except
on weekends, when cafes bloom like cactus
after drought. My rented Mustang bucks
the wind--I'm strapped up, wide-eyed,
busting speed with both heels, a sure grip
on the wheel. Black clouds maneuver
in the distance, but I don't care. Mileage
is my obsession. I'm always racing off,
passing through, as though the present
were a dying town I'd rather flee.
What matters is the future, its glittering
Hotel. Clouds loom closer, big as Brahmas
in the heavy air. The radio crackles
like a shattered rib. I'm in the chute.
I check the gas and set my jaw. I'm almost there.

Reprinted from "New York Quarterly," No. 59,
by permission of the author, whose new book,
"Future Ship," is due out this summer from
Story Line Press. Poem copyright (c) 2003
by Kurt Brown. This weekly column is supported
by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of
Congress, and the Department of English at
the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column
does not accept unsolicited poetry.