Mysterious and musical
Years ago, moving from California to Wisconsin, I saw a
highway sign for Blue Earth, and in that instant knew that
town's evocative name was the title of my next book. Life in
the town itself was a mystery. Now I read Richard Carr's
mysterious and musical poetry that records the voices of
residents of Our Blue Earth, where he grew up. He
invites us to
dwell on the farm, to hunt the deep woods, to be in bed in
house great-grandfather built and be a dreaming boy who is
"the storm approaching." The man, whose mother "didn't want
to raise a country boy" and drives him 100 miles each way to
see the Messiah, will not stay on the farm to harvest
hands, but Carr's harvest is his poetry, Our Blue Earth's
memory, grit and hard work, ghosts, dream, deer who speak
from snow and corn stubble, a cornucopia for our souls.
The poems in Richard Carr's powerfully engaging Our Blue
Earth rise from the often troubled and troubling shadows
a childhood and youth spent on a family farm. Here is a
landscape of conflicted reminiscence, of toil and mud, where
storms meddle in human affairs and "night hauls its groggy
paunch across the plains." Here too are portraits of a
mother parceling out morsels of maternal care and a father
whose voice his son can hear "the god of winds and storm"—
a god who nonetheless will "let the barn fall down / and
disappear." But Carr's project in Our Blue Earth is
that of retrieval, both of the light and the dark, at which
succeeds admirably in these poems of lyric grace and subtle
Texas Review Press
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Mother didn't want to raise a country boy. So:
A hundred miles in the blackness of headlights,
the whole family in tow, we drove a hundred winter miles
to eat dinner with wine and cloth napkins,
a hundred prairie miles with kids in suits
to see the Messiah in St. Paul, a hundred miles,
then turned around and drove a hundred miles home.
Still charged with city power, lights and action,
I couldn't sleep. I couldn't tell if farmyard lights
were little towns, if little towns were farms,
nor which light might be ours. My father used a captain's wits
to steer among the lights, to navigate the frozen sea.
I know the way, was all he said. As if to prove it,
he let me hold the wheel: Steady as she goes.
The heater ran full blast to keep my sisters warm in back.
They slept like a pile of kittens. Wide eyed, I dreamed
the distant lights could move as they pleased,
men with lanterns, the eyes of whales. I dozed, held erect
by my little boy vest and jacket that fit the year before,
until I crossed the center line. Dad jerked us back.
The kittens mewed, went back to sleep.
Put your head on my lap. My mother's dream had ended
when we left the city. I'll tell you the Adventure of Ulysses.
She could spot those glinting eyes, those dreams flitting
bat-like in the dark, snatch one with cat accuracy, and give it,
still leaping, to her young. Ulysses was a king, a warrior,
a great sea captain...
A hundred miles home, a hundred sailors, a hundred dazzling
One dreaming farm boy lost forever, a hundred far-flung watchmen
lit the night.
Suddenly wind seething in the elms wakes the boy.
He drifts, swaying side to side, downstairs.
Outside the kitchen window, wet leaves break free
and slam against the cold October glass.
The boy stops by the sink, official.
A zodiac of crumbs on the cutting board,
sliced potatoes blackening on the stove,
the butter knife floats down
in his father's hand. The newspaper,
for one to read, the other to watch,
rises lazily, a drapery dividing the room.
Toast pops up. The boy sits.
The father’s grey hair and blue eyes are like clouds
filled with the first thin light of day. He draws air—
and the boy hears the god of his wintry ancestors,
the god of winds and storm, and the leaves whirl
upward into the trees. Now
everything could change, for when the god speaks,
big limbs break free and fly against the house.
The Deer Would Speak
From the living room window
I can see deer
browsing in the stubble,
clear against the snow.
They're too close to town,
smoking chimneys farther off,
quiet for now.
But when a car starts
or a door slams
or an old man coughs
or if I blink,
the deer will disappear,
three leaps, one breath,
into the woods, blackened by mist.
Here the deer shed
their documentary personae
and speak. They shake off
the language of fear
and nestle down in bare briers.
They speak the language of shy contemplation,
a song of nuzzling, snorting
and brief wailings of exclamation,
or comfort, brother and sister
far-flung among the trees.
But solitude, hostile
to the slow and tired
yet praised among the trees,
conceals that one word
the deer would speak.
They seek it with their tongues
beneath the snow.
The word clatters in the upper branches,
draws breath when the deer look,
and scrapes, clicks again
when the deer doze.
The fireplace exhales.
I look, but no one is there.
I look again, and beyond the stubble field
the woods sweep down snow,
sweep down darkness, crows' wings
where the deer had browsed.