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...

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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.

Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

Driving west through sandstone’s

red arenas, a rodeo of slow erosion

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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.

Kurt Brown

Reprinted from “New York Quarterly,” No. 59, by permission of the author, whose new book, “Future Ship,” is due out next month from Story Line Press. Poem copyright © 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. “American Life in Poetry” appears Fridays in Northwest Life.