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American Life in Poetry

Descriptions of landscape are common in poetry, but Kurt Brown adds a twist by writing himself into “cowboy country.” He also energizes the poem by using words we associate with the American West: Mustang, cactus, Brahmas.

Road Report

Driving west through sandstone’s

red arenas, a rodeo of slow erosion

cleaves these plains, these ravaged cliffs.

This is cowboy country. Desolate. Dull. Except on weekends, when cafes bloom like cactus after drought. My rented Mustang bucks the wind—I’m strapped up, wide-eyed, busting speed with both heels, a sure grip on the wheel. Black clouds maneuver in the distance, but I don’t care. Mileage is my obsession. I’m always racing off, passing through, as though the present were a dying town I’d rather flee.

What matters is the future, its glittering Hotel. Clouds loom closer, big as Brahmas in the heavy air. The radio crackles like a shattered rib. I’m in the chute.

I check the gas and set my jaw. I’m almost there.


Reprinted from New York Quarterly, No. 59, by permission of the author, whose new book, Future Ship, is due out this summer from Story Line Press. Poem copyright 2003 by Kurt Brown. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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