Fences

Austin Smith

Some to separate
Pasture from pasture in order
To clarify the prairie,Others to surround the farm,
Keeping the world
Out and the herd in.Between the barbs designed
To bloom at intervals
Measuring the span of a hand,Redwing blackbirds scolded
Both nations of grass
The fence divided.The posts that stood
Where they’d been driven
Knee-deep in limestoneHad begun to lean
Like men forced to march
Into the wind.And where oak saplings
Had had the audacity to grow,
They’d had no choiceBut to swallow the wire,
Remembering via rings
The anniversary of that first summerThey sensed the wire tapping
Their bodies, then began,
Tentatively, to accept it,To take it in, feeling
The wire grow taut
In the grip of their bark,Until they began to believe
They needed it
In order to stand.

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Austin Smith grew up on a family dairy farm in northwestern Illinois. He is the author of a previous poetry collection, Almanac (Princeton), and his work has appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, and many other publications. He teaches at Stanford University and lives in Oakland, California.

Flyover Country is a powerful collection of poems about violence: the violence we do to the land, to animals, to refugees, to the people of distant countries, and to one another. Drawing on memories of his childhood on a dairy farm in Illinois, Austin Smith explores the beauty and cruelty of rural life, challenging the idea that the American Midwest is mere “flyover country,” a place that deserves passing over. At the same time, the collection suggests that America itself has become a flyover country, carrying out drone strikes and surveillance abroad, locked in a state of perpetual war that Americans seem helpless to stop.

“These poems live in the delicate space between the ordinary and the luminous. They are filled with lived experience, sharp scene-setting, close observations, but their power comes from the tact of the rhythm and the diction, the flawless sense of tone. Thus Smith plays memory against mystery, the plain against the visionary, fact against feeling, to produce a poetry that has a vast range of expression, that offers space for a sensibility to emerge richly and fully.”
—Colm Tóibín

“Austin Smith’s Flyover Country is a book of vital and generative reckoning, one that finds both the intimate knowledge held in large landscapes and the larger knowledges found within intimate places and acts. Smith travels the paths of the actual, the emotional, and the imaginative with a physical sureness; his words carry mystery, memory, stories personal and communal. These pages carry, too, Smith’s sustaining, taproot awareness: that what we put into this world and what we draw from it matter.”
—Jane Hirshfield

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