American Life in Poetry: Column 032

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

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 cafés 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.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 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 © 2003 by Kurt Brown. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.