Poetry

Vanishing Points: Poems and Photographs of Texas Roadside Memorials: “Sweep,” “Adam,” and “Bro”

 

Sweep

The road’s currency is speed
and control its illusion. Risk it,
depending on tire and brake,
pistons and plugs. Don’t ponder
the probability of die-cut machinery
mishaps or hungover auto mechanics
with undiagnosed malevolent tendencies.

Presume you’re not only safe
but lucky. Accelerate past
the small white crosses
under sensational Texas sky.
It’ll never be you or yours
memorialized next to
the tree line’s black lace.

 

 

 

Adam

What song is being sung
by your bones? The pink
ache of sunrise? The small
birds’ hollow worries? Sighs
that cannot affix themselves
to your wealth of ruffled flowers?

Both my feet prickle
with the humming
from your tibia and pelvis,
collarbone, and metatarsals
strung like dominoes
who love a careful distance
but find their meaning
only in collapse
and closeness, followed
by stacking in a lidded box.

 

 

 

Bro

That day you grabbed
the armadillo’s tail
and jerked it upside down
as it snarled and raked
air with black claws.

Remember? All of us laughing
at the squirming, silver ball
of scaly, pissed-off critter
who’d thought he’d burrow
into safety when chased.

It’d be on that day—if
I could have you back—that
exact moment. Your right arm
outstretched under scrub oak
alongside a one-lane road.

You, flushed, breathing hard,
sweaty—that instant suspended
the same as that armadillo
who’s now probably as dead as you,
alongside some other back road nearby.

 

From Vanishing Points: Poems & Photographs of Texas Roadside Memorials (Texas Review Press 2016) with photographs by Dan Streck. Published with permission of the press.

 

Sarah Cortez, a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters and Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, has poems, essays, book reviews, and short stories anthologized and published in such journals as Texas Monthly, Rattle, The Sun, Pennsylvania English, Texas Review, Louisiana Literature, Arcadia, Langdon Review of the Arts, The Midwest Quarterly, and Southwestern American Literature. Cortez is both a Houston and Texas finalist for poet laureate. Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, Cortez’s debut poetry collection is How to Undress a Cop. Her books have placed as finalists in the Writers’ League of Texas Awards, Los Angeles Book Festival Awards, and PEN Southwest Poetry Awards. An anthologist of eight volumes, Cortez won a Southwest Book Award of the Year, multiple International Latino Book Awards, a Border Region Librarians Association Award, a Press Women of Texas Editing Award, a First Prize for Editing from the National Federation of Press Woman, and a Skipping Stones International Honor Award. Her most recent anthology, Vanishing Points, combines Dan Streck’s photographs of Texas roadside memorials with poems by Cortez and three other poets and is available here. Graphic designer Nancy J. Parsons created the book’s design. Vanishing Points is a 2016 Southwest Book of the Year and won first place for editing in the Press Women of Texas annual awards and the National Federation of Press Women Awards and was shortlisted for an International Latino Book Award. For more information, visit poetacortez.com. (Author photo credit: Phillippe Diederich)

 

Poet’s Note

I conceptualized and edited Vanishing Points: Poems & Photographs of Texas Roadside Memorials and to facilitate its publication wrote a detailed book proposal and submitted it to the publisher along with sample photographs by Dan Streck. During the proposal stage, I chose three poets, in addition to myself, to write original poems in response to each photo. Also during this time I chose the book’s graphic designer, Nancy J. Parsons, and negotiated with the publisher for artistic control of the project, including paper stocks and format. Once the poets wrote their poems, I edited them, working on issues from punctuation and spelling to image and narrative distance. When the poems were finalized, I chose the sequence of the four chapters (one poet per chapter) and ordered the poems within each chapter. I tried to allow each poem to function as a unique and beautiful slab of slate whose location in the pathway is determined not only by its individual characteristics but also by its greater relationship to every other piece of slate on the winding path. Ultimately, I also worked with the graphic designer in making such decisions as font selection and sizes, orientation of photograph, layout, and design to ensure that the overall tone and mood of the book, from cover to cover, reflected the poems and their unique photographs.

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