Poem of the Week | September 10, 2013

This week we offer a new poem by James Galvin. Galvin is the author of seven collections of poems (most recently As Is, from Copper Canyon Press), and two prose works. He teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Author’s Note:

In my last book, As Is, I was overwhelmed by circumstance. I was in love, and I was living in George Bush’s America. I was trying to figure out a way to live and love and value in a culture based on lies and deceit. Two wars, economic collapse, an oil spill, all the result of lies. We lost our Constitutional rights. We were helpless victims in a melodrama of lies. People who live in cities tend to think of reality as a matter of human actions and their consequences. During the Bush years we all came to think that way. Even a hurricane was eclipsed by the inadequacy of the response to it. I couldn’t ignore it. I couldn’t continue to dwell entirely in a world whose reality is a matter of landscape and weather, where the people play the audience. It made me, to some degree, a satirist—not at all my comfort zone.

In the poems I’m writing now I’m trying to come home. In “Bet,” the protagonist is landscape and sky. The people in the poem are almost too small to see. They are part of the landscape. They are betting on a snowdrift. There’s no money on it. They have achieved a right relationship to their environment.


On the far side of the ridge at my back, the sky
Gasps and won’t let go its breath. Over
Here the sky is smaller, manageable,
Imaginable. At my back over
That wave of ridge, the Laramie Basin swoops
Like a night hawk, then rises again up to
The blue Medicine Bow under pure ether.
I can feel the cold of snowfields in my spine.
But here, under the smaller sky it’s all
Watercolor strokes of green bleeding
Into each other. The ridge I’m looking at
Crests and falls under pines, like a breaker to
Its knees on a coast, which is a lighter, wobblier
Green of tall grass—a hayfield ready for mowing,
Itself more like an ocean than a shore.
Down its middle a drunken, willowy creek
Staggers. The air is heavy with willow scent
And pine duff. The heat is light. Down there, across
The meadow, in the shadow of the falling
Ridge (you wouldn’t see them if I didn’t
Tell you), two men, motionless, study
The last snowdrift. They lean on spades in waist-
High grass, wearing green hip boots. The snowdrift looks
Like a homeless man, lying, half-fetal with
A dirty sheet thrown over him. A month
Ago, when the bet was made, that drift looked more
Like a barn, and was bigger than one. Even then
It was the only white besides the clouds,
When there were clouds in the small sky amongst
All that green, and hanging on right where
The lodgepoles left it after a winter spent
Combing snow out of the wind and heaping
It at their feet like wealth. Pat and Lyle
Bet every year on whether or not that snowdrift
Will survive until the Fourth of July.
Pat is sixty-five, as old as Lyle
Will live to be. His eyes are dimly green.
Lyle’s are laser blue. They eye the heap
Of snow. It’s the slowest race in the world, and no
Money on it. They made their bets a month
Ago today. They are looking at it hard
In its shade of trees and the north side of its ridge.
“What’s today?”
“Today?—Today’s the first.”
“I don’t think he will make it till the Fourth.”
“I do. You betting against yourself?”
“Are you?”
“Not yet. There’s still a chance that he could make it
Till the Fourth, depending on cold nights.”