National Poetry Month, day five

I find prose poems interesting. At first they seem formless, and one wonders why the poet didn’t just write a straight-up story or paragraph, but as you read a good prose poem, the melding of the two forms clarifies. This poem is a good example: it starts as simple description of a small town, but then, the speaker enters a fantasy that spins out as he drives through the town and out the other side. There are echoes of history and Shakespeare in here, all suggesting the kind of life one might live in a small town where the bronze Civil War general stands above the little park in the village center.

Passing Through a Small Town
by David Shumate

Here the highways cross. One heads north. One heads east
and west. On the corner of the square adjacent to the
courthouse a bronze plaque marks the place where two Civil
War generals faced one another and the weaker surrendered.
A few pedestrians pass. A beauty parlor sign blinks. As I turn
to head west, I become the schoolteacher living above the
barber shop. Polishing my shoes each evening. Gazing at the
square below. In time I befriend the waitress at the cafe and
she winks as she pours my coffee. Soon people begin to
talk. And for good reason. I become so distracted I teach my
students that Cleopatra lost her head during the French
Revolution and that Leonardo perfected the railroad at the
height of the Rennaissance. One day her former lover returns
from the army and creates a scene at the school. That evening
she confesses she cannot decide between us. But still we spend
one last night together. By the time I pass the grain elevators
on the edge of town I am myself again. The deep scars of love
already beginning to heal.

(Text via.)

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