“Three people come where no people belong any more”: Hayden Carruth’s “Abandoned Ranch, Big Bend”

Abandoned Ranch, Big Bend

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the Poetry Foundation’s “Poem of the Day” emails. I don’t always love the featured poem, but I do appreciate the chance to sample the work of poets who are (let’s be honest, more often than not) unfamiliar to me. As a certified poetry pusher, I think you should sign up too!

Last week, one of the featured poems was “Abandoned Ranch, Big Bend” by Hayden Carruth, whom—and this is going to sound familiar—I don’t know much about. But now I’m on the hunt for more of his work, because anyone who titles a book of poems Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey is someone I want to know better (also, I’m going to go ahead and recommend to Leslie Knope that she pick that collection up for Ron’s birthday, for reasons I hope are obvious.)

Anyway, the poem drew me in with its intense descriptions (“Sun / on the corrugated roof is a horse treading”) of the scene: a man, woman, and child converge on an abandoned ranch. We don’t know why; “here are only / Dry cistern, adobe flaking, a lizard.” The scene feels timeless, like something out of the nineteenth century, until the introduction of the useless binoculars, which would only reveal the desert “spiral[ing] away.” And then we learn that the three people have been drawn to this place:

From half across the world, from snow and rock,
From chaos, they arrived a moment ago, they thought,
In perfect fortuity.

And then it gets really creepy:

There is a presence emerging here in
Sun dance and clicking metal, where the lizard blinks
With eyes whetted for extinction; then swirling
Outward again, outward and upward through the sky’s
White-hot funnel. Again and again among the dry
Wailing voices of displaced Yankee ghosts
This ranch is abandoned to terror and the sublime.

I’m getting shades of Yeats there (am I the only one?), and the tone reminds me of the grim Westerns I’ve loved (like Kim Zupan’s The Ploughmen).

In a poem marked by repeated words like “summoned,” “pulsing,” “sun,” “horse,” “lizard,” the last lines arrive like a trickle of clear water:

They give him
The steady cool mercy of their unreproachful eyes.

For me, “Abandoned Ranch, Big Bend” is tantalizing, like a story with key plot points missing; the fun is filling them in.

What do you think of the poem?

P.S. Here’s the link to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Rory at Fourth Street Review visited the park not too long ago; here’s her post.


9 thoughts on ““Three people come where no people belong any more”: Hayden Carruth’s “Abandoned Ranch, Big Bend”

  1. I signed up!
    Also, I just want to say that I always enjoy the poem even more when you describe it for me as I read it. I don’t know how you do it so well. 🙂

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