End of the Road

by David Durham
Third Place, May 2011
Judged by Judith Fitzgerald

At the end of the road is blond prairie
where a broke down truck left us,
stopped short of rotten fence posts
beside a tumble of thistle weeds.
You spoke to me then as if a wind
that sweeps grass and soil; an arid voice
choked on barbed wire’s song,
reminding me that a furrowed brow
is a restless prairie’s cemetery
and regret a ghost town.
It is a weathered memory, but not unwilling.
You leaned against the faded red fender;
blue jeans, stained with clay, loose
about your hips. Your skin like sunlight
through branches of a cottonwood tree.

Inscrutably ambiguous, either the best or worst of poems, "The End of the Road" deploys shop-worn phrases to sublime (or sardiculous) effect. Dramatic irony or temporal fluidity never had it so good (or has it?). The sententious speaker gently skims and peels skin-thin realms of memory's dominant driving force to reveal an integral character central to our collective (or nearly unconscious) recollections of an earlier era (sans irony. Or not).

Apparently, given the offhand style balanced by sly alliterative internals, externals represent the timely and timeless, the quotidian trite but tricksy, an elementarily essential stratum unique to homo sapiens. Thanks to the author's veracious nimbletude, readers either accept the exaggerated yet admirably sustained clichés at face value or see, all too clearly, through the cottonwood true, despite the contradictionaerial imagery. Lacking middle ground, "The End of the Road" cranks up the shaft a notch, challenging — almost — for even the most accomplished post-apocalyptic filmmakers; and, then, automagical automobility. (Cormical.) A faded red fender. The submerged Wallace-weathered metaphors redeem these lines of toothless tiger perceptions overlaying sere slant projections, digressions, interruptions, distractions, and reformulations across one league of notions. Or, courageously approximate the cinematic scope swathing this work (which works. Or doesn't). The nifty thrifty morphs into the piece's underpinnings, its fragmentary yet consistently inconsistent philosophy: It takes two takes to fire on all four cylinders. Win. Place. Show and tell. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis (or what the hell). — Judith Fitzgerald