Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Come From Cowboys (Ron Wallace)

I Come From Cowboys

and I don't like ties;
boots and blue jeans fit me best
     when I head out the door.
I'm carved wood, sculpted stone,
and tooled leather.
I'm green trees, blue sky, native earth
     a circling redtailed hawk.

My dad taught me how to read,
how to swing a hammer and cast a fishing line.
Mama taught me how   not what   to think.
     She said, "Keep it simple, son,
          always try to do the best you can.
The world gets complicated as it is
     without you chipping in."

Fifty years have marked me now with scars
of bent ten penny nails,
     fist fights and books of poetry

but in the end when the wind moves the grass
across my grave,
     I ask only that I rise
          on feathered wings one time
               and loose a last defiant cry
before I'm gone back into the stone
     below the dirt
          to sleep awhile.

--Ron Wallace

Wallace's book was given to me as a Christmas present and I'm looking forward to digging deep into it. This is the first poem in the book and it definitely sets the tone, though I'm curious to see whether the rest of the book handles the tone with or without irony.

The poem is kind of like an ode to the mythology of the cowboy. I don't think you can grow up in Texas and be immune to the power of those images, but then again, I'm someone who grew up there and then went away as an adult. I think for me, the cowboy mythology is something that's become suspect as I've grown older. There's a purity to the cowboy, an alone-ness. "Keep it simple, son" - that's the essence of it right there, I think - that the world is simple. "The world gets complicated," yes, but the world gets complicated, it doesn't start off that way. People make things complicated that could/should be simple, that's the implication there. If you're just a man alone in the country then all you need to know is how to hammer, how to fish, how to think (thinking is inside, not outside yourself).

But I'm not sure I believe it. I'm not sure I think it's possible to keep it simple. The world isn't simple, and people aren't separate from the world.

So I'll be interested to see where the book goes from here, whether what we get is a real cowboy, a real person, or whether what we get is the image of a cowboy, tooled in leather and ready to be sold.