Poem of the Week | March 28, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “The Ranch” by Dion O’Reilly!

Dion O’Reilly’s debut book, Ghost Dogs, (Terrapin 2020) was shortlisted for several prizes including The Catamaran Prize and The Eric Hoffer Award. Her work appears in The Sun, Rattle, Cincinnati Review, Narrative, New Letters, American Journal of Poetry and The New Ohio Review. She facilitates workshops with poets from all over the US and hosts a podcast at The Hive Poetry Collective. Learn more at dionoreilly.wordpress.com


The Ranch

Manure slurry, foundered hooves,
saber saws, bandsaws,

pulleys with no purpose
hanging in the sway-backed shed.

Mad pony, ready to buck. Deep through the heart,
with a muscled neck. Side-eye pony,

ready to brain me
when he bolts beneath the tulip tree.

Herd goats bell at the riverbank,
pumas haunt the shadows, stashed nutshells

molder in heaps,
smelling of virus and pee.

A mastiff named Tiny waits
in the field, listless and tripwired for blood.

I can feel how he loves me
like an assassin

loves a slow dance.
His devotion shimmers the bees.

I take my faithless body there, lit
with the safety of stars.

This is where a child asks herself:
Why are you sad?


Author’s Note

When I wrote “The Ranch,” I drew from a list of words, phrases, and images I’d compiled about my childhood. I often run stories in my head about my past, but this time, I wanted images to flow in an associative stream, with whimsy and sound as the controlling devices. After all, there was already some cohesion because the images were chosen based on their topic — life on the farm.

While “The Ranch” evokes my childhood, the poem is also an ars poetica and an example of the non-linear nature of awareness. The images provoke a lyric moment when the child mind dissociates from the drama and connects to a different mode of being. The final question enacts a moment of meta-consciousness much like I experienced as a child, when I processed life through writing fantasy stories and drawing pictures. Why are you sad? was (and is) like saying, Once upon a time, and then a different, more archetypal, story ensues. But the adult speaker has also crafted her memories, so what we end up with is a time warp where the lyric moments, both past and present, merge.