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River Road

Herbert Morris

Running off with the boy at the gas station,
yellow-haired, clear-eyed, with a pair of hands
nothing, you understand, would prove too much for,
is, it seems, a simple enough solution.

Consequences never enter your thinking
at the start. Whatever the implications
of the act, of the speed with which you act,
all one knows, and all one chooses to know,

is summed in this: we are to be together.
On River Road, the great elms overhead
branch out to shape a tunnel which we race through
as we make our escape, leaf-dappled, late,

the avenue to what is possible,
water on one side, deep woods on the other.
The water’s depth goes down in feet and inches,
but the depth of the woods is only guessed.

Driving all night, deeper into the country,
we pause at dawn, finding a roadside shack
which serves us what we call a wedding breakfast,
homemade raspberry tarts and lemon ices.

I remember that first glimpse of him, sprawled
over the body of a green coupé,
feverish, rapt, all ardor, lean, committed,
almost making love, it seemed, to the engine.

The yellow hair hung down across his eyes,
damp and limp with the sweat beading his forehead.
Two arms lodged elbow-deep within the gearshaft,
the hands, when you saw hands, the awesome gifts

not of a boy who haunted the gas station
but of a man for whom one understands
nothing, in time, will be impossible,
motor, transmission, fan-belt, valves, a life.

Illumination from a single light bulb
beat down across the muscles of his back.
Beyond him, from the body shop, there leaked
darkness to match those woods whose depth one guesses.

Every night since then, since River Road
and the tunnel through which, quite late, we fled,
I find him sprawled over another chassis
left to his care in a garage with one bulb

by someone who knows what those hands can do,
knows, or has heard, what can be worked with love,
suspects (I am not able to say how)
nothing will not be possible for him,

passionate with attention, with concern,
held by the task at hand as he is held
by nothing in this life here, here, together,
yellow hair in his eyes, light on his back.

Knowing no longer what it is I want,
flayed by the memory of what I wanted,
the possible, the uses of the hands,
the uses, later, deeper, of the body,

I think of River Road turning to moonlight
beneath the lyric hissing of the tires,
moonlight becoming water, water woods,
everything turning much too deep to guess,

fragrance on all sides pinning us beneath it,
sweet avenue to the nights stretched before us.
It may come down to this: one’s choice of route.
It may be that, at dusk, when the moon rises,

when, for the thousandth time, the dark begins
what it seems to know no end of beginning,
the stars strung in the branches, River Road
cut at an angle somehow penetrating

the countryside of all we dream and long for,
the heart of our location, of romance,
two others, quite unknown to us, their crankcase
worked to perfection, brakes fixed for endurance,

their tires aligned to yield both speed and distance,
bearings retooled to make good their escape,
engine fitted to lead them down that route
almost without their need to steer, to choose,

set out this evening, late, on River Road,
that avenue to what is possible,
water on one side, deep woods on the other
lovelier for the depths they would withhold,

seeming to know precisely what the miles know,
seeming to choose to go where the road goes.
Knowing the risk involved now and the price
of wild raspberry tarts and lemon ices,

the sting, at dawn, of sour and sweet at once
exotic to the tongues of two so young,
two who have driven all night, running off,
the spill of moonlight drenching River Road,

the same fierce angle, the same penetration,
I need to think again how deep the woods run
(what lies beyond, of course, a myth, a guess),
I need to weigh the cost of staying home.

from An Explanation of America: A Love of Death

Robert Pinsky

Imagine a child from Virginia or New Hampshire
Alone on the prairie eighty years ago
Or more, one afternoon—the shaggy pelt
Of grasses, for the first time in that child’s life,
Flowing for miles. Imagine the moving shadow
Of a cloud far off across that shadeless ocean,
The obliterating strangeness like a tide
That pulls or empties the bubble of the child’s
Imaginary heart. No hills, no trees.

The child’s heart lightens, tending like a bubble
Towards the currents of the grass and sky,
The pure potential of the clear blank spaces.

Or, imagine the child in a draw that holds a garden
Cupped from the limitless motion of the prairie,
Head resting against a pumpkin, in evening sun.
Ground-cherry bushes grow along the furrows,
The fruit red under its papery, moth-shaped sheath.
Grasshoppers tumble among the vines, as large
As dragons in the crumbs of pale dry earth.
The ground is warm to the child’s cheek, and the wind
Is a humming sound in the grass above the draw,
Rippling the shadows of the red-green blades.
The bubble of the child’s heart melts a little,
Because the quiet of that air and earth
Is like the shadow of a peaceful death—
Limitless and potential; a kind of space
Where one dissolves to become a part of something
Entire ... whether of sun and air, or goodness
And knowledge, it does not matter to the child.
Dissolved among the particles of the garden
Or into the motion of the grass and air,
Imagine the child happy to be a thing.

Imagine, then, that on that same wide prairie
Some people are threshing in the terrible heat
With horses and machines, cutting bands
And shoveling amid the clatter of the threshers,
The chaff in prickly clouds and the naked sun
Burning as if it could set the chaff on fire.
Imagine that the people are Swedes or Germans,
Some of them resting pressed against the strawstacks,
Trying to get the meager shade.
A man,
A tramp, comes laboring across the stubble
Like a mirage against that blank horizon,
Laboring in his torn shoes toward the tall
Mirage-like images of the tilted threshers
Clattering in the heat. Because the Swedes
Or Germans have no beer, or else because
They cannot speak his language properly,
Or for some reason one cannot imagine,
The man climbs up on a thresher and cuts bands
A minute or two, then waves to one of the people,
A young girl or a child, and jumps head-first
Into the sucking mouth of the machine,
Where he is wedged and beat and cut to pieces—
While the people shout and run in the clouds of chaff,
Like lost mirages on the pelt of prairie.

The obliterating strangeness and the spaces
Are as hard to imagine as the love of death ...
Which is the love of an entire strangeness,
The contagious blankness of a quiet plain.
Imagine that a man, who had seen a prairie,
Should write a poem about a Dark or Shadow
That seemed to be both his, and the prairie’s—as if
The shadow proved that he was not a man,
But something that lived in quiet, like the grass.
Imagine that the man who writes that poem,
Stunned by the loneliness of that wide pelt,
Should prove to himself that he was like a shadow
Or like an animal living in the dark.
In the dark proof he finds in his poem, the man
Might come to think of himself as the very prairie,
The sod itself, not lonely, and immune to death.

None of this happens precisely as I try
To imagine that it does, in the empty plains,
And yet it happens in the imagination
Of part of the country: not in any place
More than another, on the map, but rather
Like a place, where you and I have never been
And need to try to imagine—place like a prairie
Where immigrants, in the obliterating strangeness,
Thirst for the wide contagion of the shadow
Or prairie—where you and I, with our other ways,
More like the cities or the hills or trees,
Less like the clear blank spaces with their potential,
Are like strangers in a place we must imagine.

Why was this poem recommended?

Currently this poetry engine looks a set of features about the poems and chooses a poem with the most similar set of features. Below you can see the features of each poem. Right now "most similar" is a simple Euclidean distance. Further work includes adding more sophisticated features and determining similarity differently. I talk about the features and similarity metric more on the about page.

Feature River Road from An Explanation of America: A Love of Death
NumLines 109 91
NumWords 695 707
WidthInChar 42.61 43.86
AvgWordSize 4.52 4.46
RepetitionScore 0.59 0.60
ObscurityScore 0.39 0.39
SentenceScore 0.12 0.15