Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DRIFTERS: BELLA COOLA TO WILLIAMS LAKE, by KAREN SWENSON

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

DRIFTERS: BELLA COOLA TO WILLIAMS LAKE, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: Used to being his own listener
Last Line: He travels this road.
Subject(s): Conversation; Hitchhikers; Solitude; Loneliness

Used to being his own listener,
the hitchhiker talks randomly
along 300 miles of dirt,
beard concealing both
face and gaps of teeth
already gone at thirty.
Gravel splutters like popcorn
against the underside of the car
as I drive beneath the blue
pencil-line of sky
hunched by dark shoulders of firs.

"Nettles don't draw nettles
nor burdock, burdock," he says,
rolling his sleeve to show the rash.
Among the raw heads of stumps
the Indian Reserves make sudden flurries of color -
wildflowers in a meadow.
"Sorrow don't draw sorrow,
nor loneliness, loneliness," I think.

"20 lbs. potatoes, beans,
fatback, cans an' a shack,
tho' the rancher's mean -
won't let you have even what he ain't usin'
for your grubstake."
Cattle, gone wild in the forest,
rub flanks against the car;
horned, white faces peer in the windows.
"A semester's teaching in a strange town,
a furnished room,
a lover borrowed from another woman's marriage
is my winter store."

The reddish mutt lopes ahead
of the car's dust,
bones indistinguishable from a ranch dog's
but coyote in the marrow.
Glancing back over his shoulder,
he raises his lip and turns into the trees.
A scavenger, poaching from the corral
to stay alive in the forest,
he travels this road.

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