Hello and welcome to my new followers! I don’t know where you’re all coming from, and I’m struggling to keep up with the notifications honestly, but I’m glad to have you on board. Normally, I post something on Thursday, but as my last post indicated, I’ve been in nine kinds of hell recently, some of which I had neither the energy or strength to expound upon then. My point is this: I’m late, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve just finished work and I have a friend over, so I still have no time to do this, but luckily, said friend is busy finishing a book, so I get to quickly introduce you to another gem (or remind you of it, if you’ve already read it).
This week’s poem is In Defense of Small Towns by Oliver De La Paz, and it is simply delightful. It begins:
When I look at it, it’s simple, really. I hated life there. September,
once filled with animal deaths and toughened hay. And the smells
of fall were boiled-down beets and potatoes
or the farmhands’ breeches smeared with oil and diesel
as they rode into town, dusty and pissed.
I often think of great poems like rivers; when I step into one, when I cede control, I expect to be taken gently downstream, for its flow to be inexorable and constant in its beauty. A less than great poem will pause, a clumsy line will snag my attention, prick the bubble and release me back into the world before its end. De La Paz’s poem has no such loose logs, no sudden outcropping of stone.
From beginning to end, I was drawn along, lost in the small country town he evokes with such ease. It didn’t surprise me, this town he spoke of, nor did the emotions, the need for escape we all feel for the places that bore us – so huge and endless while we were small, so confining and tiny as adults – and the conflicting surge of nostalgia we have once we’re gone from them. Despite the lack of surprise for this oldest of experiences, he still made it seem fresh. Each line sings with something specific, and like light hitting the water, it transforms the ordinary and mundane into priceless treasure, common pebbles glinting brighter than diamonds.
Even the cliche is given no room for purchase here, in a country town dominated by football:
The radio station
split time between metal and Tejano, and the only action
happened on Friday nights where the high school football team
gave everyone a chance at forgiveness
See how swiftly familiar terrain becomes divine? I adore that line. Of course we all have a chance at forgiveness during a football game: to forgive the players who mess up, and the referees for being referees, and each other, for hurling insult and hate at ordinary boys and girls whose only mistake was being born someplace else and wearing different colours.
We each of us have a chance at forgiveness every day, in most actions of our lives, no matter how small. It’s such an unexpected thing to be thankful for, to have the mere chance to experience it, and yet having read that line, it doesn’t seem so unexpected after all. It seems instead like I should have known that all along. That is just one example of the incisive way De La Paz cuts through the at-first-familiar skin of this landscape and shows us something new, something timeless and beautiful all at once.
I wish I had more time to rave about it but I don’t, so I leave it to you to discover at your own pace. Come back and tell me what you thought; I’d love to hear it.