The natural speaking voice of David Bottoms is utterly unadulterated, not just a country voice, but the voice of an older generation and a lower class than most poets of our generation would allow, and he does not mask that voice under a “poetry voice” when he reads poems. He comes straightaway from his own experience and passes through heartbreak and wonder with just enough irony to sweeten the pot. He does not generally allude to myths. He makes them. The poems behave in near perfect alignment with the man, and in their central empathy, recall the saint from the Vedantas that James Wright describes in “The Flying Eagles of Troop 62,” who refuses to enter the perfect paradise because he cannot take his dog with him. For years I carried around “In a U-Haul North of Damascus,” to stay linked with home, and to see the way ahead. Here is unalloyed necessity, in perfect pitch:
I lay in the dark afraid of the dark,
Once, in Alabama, in 1954,
The year before electricity,
And prayed and could not pray
One lamp for all the world
And, listening, heard the L&N
Screech at Lacon, and then
The unmuted spirit breathing of the house.
I lay in the dark afraid of the dark
And thought of the word eternity
And of the hydrogen bomb.
Sometimes now in sleep I ululate.
When Katy shakes me, asking why,
I mean to keep things light. I say,
“That is the noise I always make
When I am being devoured.”
Aloof all his life, an assistant
on his brother’s dairy farm
good on the tractor and with cows—
when he met Savannah she
was twice widowed, her youngest son,
61, three years his senior.
That first year neighbors whispered,
the way they rode together in the pickup,
the old lady, who looked like Gertrude Stein,
and the handsome, middle-aged gentleman,
spooning like teenagers:
a disturbance, a mild
displacement of the ideal—
some said peculiar, others, queer.
After a while, the strangeness wore off.
Why do I think of them now?
I hardly knew them,
their brief, unlikely marriage
in a trailer behind a water tank:
a black and white television,
a plug of tobacco, a dip of snuff,
and the adoration of the pick-up?
When she died I would see him
with that truck, bending
under the hood he’d waxed and buffed
to change the points and plugs,
loyal to the end, a Chevrolet man.
A great many of us agree with the proposition
the annual fourth of July pig-roast should be permanently cancelled,
though I cannot help recalling the camaraderie
in the fifties when all the women wore bonnets
and the men would bring blocks of ice in pickups
from the ice plant in Hartselle to keep the drinks cold;
the banjos and the mandolins, someone
always singing off-key at the top of their voice;
the pig hanging over the timbers glowing in the pit,
and you should know, if anyone asks, the pig
is not an actual pig. The pig is history.
Once I fell in love. She took a lover.
I decided not to do it, not to kill them,
But within a mile of here over a period of forty years,
These victims. GL shot six times
As he answered a booty call early one morning
On the steps of his girlfriend’s house.
Her ex-husband, who had recently
Gotten out of the army, laying for him
In the shadows with a .22 rifle.