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Occasional Poem — Raymond Carver

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Deschutes River

This sky, for instance:
closed, gray,
but it has stopped snowing
so that is something. I am
so cold I cannot bend
my fingers.
Walking down to the river this morning
we surprised a badger
tearing a rabbit.
Badger had a bloody nose,
blood on its snout up to its sharp eyes:

. . . . . . . . . prowess is not to be confused
. . . . . . . . .with grace.

Later, eight mallard ducks fly over
without looking down. On the river
Frank Sandmeyer trolls, trolls
for steelhead. He has fished
this river for years
but February is the best month
he says.
Snarled, mittenless,
I handle a maze of nylon.
Far away —
another man is raising my children,
bedding my wife, bedding my wife.

Raymond Carver is one of my favourite poets, and this is my favourite Raymond Carver poem, so obviously it’s right up there at the top of my list; as you can see, it’s for extremely good reason.

As with any Carver poem, it is spare, direct and declarative; single lines that in another context would be mere passing conversation — ‘I am so cold I cannot bend my fingers’ — here are made monumental by their placement and the slow, plodding cadence of the piece (plodding in a good way).

‘Prowess is not to be confused with grace’.

How beautiful is that?

Overall though, what makes this poem phenomenal is the ending.  We trudge along with the narrator through his gray and bleak descriptions of this February day, maybe a bit bored at first, thinking this man is a simple, uninteresting sportsman giving us the inane details of Frank Sandmeyer’s fishing habits, and then he hits us with such a thunderclap, completely out of nowhere, it almost knocks you over: Far away — another man is raising my children, bedding my wife, bedding my wife.  And you realize he’s not out there on the river because he wants to be, or because he enjoys what he’s doing; it’s because he has absolutely no idea what do to, and numbing himself with the cold is the only way he knows how to get by.  But even that is not enough because that last stanza — that lament — will only repeat itself over and over again no matter what he does.        

It’s monumental in the barest of ways, and it’s the ability to create that atmosphere which made Carver such a unique and remarkable voice. meopcco03971semaj 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wednesday, July 25, 2007 11:35 am

    Mn, very nice. So simple and seemingly ‘unpoetic’, yet beautifully evocative. And you’re right, those last two lines are striking.

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