Wednesday, August 1, 2018

"A Salesman’s Song" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Road" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
A Salesman’s Song
Lowell Jaeger

Traveling back from Hot Springs last
night, late enough not to worry
over the day’s calls left undone,
a side road I’d often hastened past
called in the voice of a million yellow flowers.
For once I didn’t think twice how the sun
was low, another day shot tracking hours
across a map.  Give in. What’s the hurry,
said the gravel spitting under my wheels,
and I let that lane lead me where it would.
Laughing, lost, an outlaw on the roam,
pleased with the breeze on my face and how it feels
to park along the cutbank where I stood
in the flow of pretending I might never go home.

Poet's Notes:  When I was a kid, I thought I’d grow up to be an adventurer or an outlaw.  Instead, I married young and had children of my own early.  All these years later, I still carry my childhood adventure/outlaw fantasy with me, and when I’m alone in the car or in the solitude of the mountains or when I’m awake late at night, I imagine whole other lives I might have led had I turned one way not another.  I don’t regret who I’ve become and I do love to nurture my imagination.  So it’s possible, through poetry, to live inside my shoes and to live in someone else’s shoes, too.  This is one way poetry enriches my life.

I admire poets who can button themselves into a persona and speak as a whole other being.  The poem “Next Day” by Randall Jarrell, for instance, takes on the voice of an aging woman.  Seems to me that it would be a good thought-experiment for every man to imagine himself as a woman.

The poet Ai was especially adept at conjuring the voices of characters far apart from the relatively mundane realities of her own affairs.  The characters in her poems are often strong and menacing.  Some of her poems are written in the voice of sociopaths and desperados. I met Ai at an AWP conference in Phoenix years ago. After a panel at AWP, a woman approached me--a wizened, frail, soft-spoken women with a friendly face--and I was visibly knocked off-balance when she introduced herself to me as the poet, Ai. We both had a good laugh over that.  To me, the voices she’d constructed in her poems were so real, I fully expected--if someday I’d meet the poet herself --she’d sweep into the room like a tornado, tossing us all against the walls and breaking our bones.

“A Salesman’s Song” is a double backflip. I’m imagining a persona who is, in turn, imagining a persona of his own.

Editor's Note:  "A Salesman's Song" was previously published in Blood Orange Review, Blue Lyra Review, Great Lakes Review, and Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone.

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