Start with a U.S. state, end on a color.
The majority of my students choose
Someplace open to interpretation—
A landscape like Nebraska that could be,
I suppose, beautiful or horrific.
There are others who side with birthplace,
The familiar roadway from A to B, the state
Flower we've all seen, taking up space in a poem.
No one for example, includes a state animal,
A white-tailed deer dashing over barbed wire.
I gave this assignment on a blustery day
When a cold front was moving eastward
From the Rockies. I had chicken noodle
Soup in a small diner that was poorly lit.
It was one of those moments of sudden
Violation: a blackbird on your otherwise
Snow-bleached lawn, or a stranger
Waving in the background of a picture.
This student, with an all-caps COLORADO,
She began to re-write me.
It was summer of course, as we moved
Much too quickly through downtown
Fort Collins and into the bluffs. There went
My first apartment and my roommate's silver
Bronco parked out front. (Can't we just stop
On that color?)
She continues in the unnerving way
Beginners do— leaving things unattended.
We are at the top of a trail, overlooking
Water. She hasn't learned voice yet,
So I can't call her back. She thinks God
Will enter the end of a poem if she jumps.
But I knew a poet who was laid out
Like a long line. He was my roommate;
This was our place to talk politics,
Marriage and wine. This craggy cliffside
High above the reservoir and 942
Miles from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
I never knew his hometown
Until I booked a plane for the funeral.
He always said, Just outside of Milwaukee,
In that same, inexact way
A body loses its footing and goes
Tumbling down the rocks.
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