From The Journal of
Kentucky Studies, Fall 2002
It is apparent that this man in the trees is content with his existence:
In "Appalache" the narrator explores the idea of being seen as a way of existence. When he moves, "the eyes of an entire forest lift." By being visible to the natural world, the idea of himself is carried infinitely:
Carried in this way, he is transported to both the living and the not yet born:
This ancient imparting of information reverberates in modern life and "will come to them like a thought,/ like a dim recollection,/ preceding me through the streets." This "becomes one thought / and that the thought of the earth- / the same thought, the only thought."
The narrator, who is obviously older and presumably more experienced, has a different attitude about such revelations:
"Museum" takes the reader through a place where Native American artifacts have been collected and displayed for tourists. The narrator looks through the "plate-glass-protected encasement / of arrow and spear heads, / tomahawks and knives" (9) while contemplating the label on the display:
This here and now narrative is juxtaposed with another voice in italics, a more primitive voice from the past which now returns to the present within the poem. It not only returns, but states its purpose for continued existence:
The last poem of section I entitled "Ohshon" leaves the narrator standing on an edge with the question "I am of whose kingdom, / whose kingdom?" (20). Having experienced a wide range of existence, he reflects upon the meaning of those events:
This apparent dichotomy flows into section II, the first poem of which is "The Hunters." Written in three voices, it describes the experience of a boy who is squirrel hunting for the first time with his father. There are things that the boy cannot express to his father, feelings of the connection he has with nature that have not yet been socialized out of him. The boy says:
But his father "has always gone hunting." The boy is "trying so hard to be him," to be like his father, saying "I won't fail you, Daddy. / Honest, I won't fail you." The boy manages to shoot the squirrel, though with unforeseen complications:
There is a "piercing human cry" before he "dug [his]
bootheel into its head." He then notices poignantly how the noise of the forest goes on as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened and says "I came back. I saw. / I will not need to look again."
It is play on a cosmic level between two brothers, and has the tone of a story not wholly experienced anymore but desperately desired:
Even nature seems to be tired, to not believe in itself anymore. In "the Birds In My Window," the narrator claims that "the mite-colored crows / have fled the real world" (47) The crows on his window today "look out at nothing." As degenerated a state as the birds find themselves, he will not be the one who hastens their departure from this world:
Section III portrays an even more civilized and intellectualized view of the world, with references to Freud, Nietzsche, and Camus. The narrator seems in a state of "isness" about the world, not appearing to feel one way or the other about the events which transpire before him. There are images of busses, bars, and office towers where once there were fields and forests.
There is a sense of return toward the end of section III, a reemergence of the wholeness found earlier in the collection. In "Landover Beach" the narrator returns to a sense of all one timeness which was found in section I. It is possible to "believe everything at once,/ the present, the future, / together" (79). There is once again a connection between the narrator and the natural world around him, and a seeming desire to breath life back into that reality. In "Pastoral" the narrator holds something in his hands "something that spoke another language." He says:
He finds that the thing he holds:
Section IV begins with the narrative voice saying "130 years late I show up to die in battle"(91) The Civil War takes place then and now, a crossing over of times and consciousnesses. The identity of the narrative voice is ambiguous, sometimes that of a young soldier taking in the carnage, other times claiming "I am a slave"(92) though later deciding "so I will not be a slave"(98).
Rather than being of a particular place, they are "of the country of Earth. And no other, if not that." When set free of categories, beings behave in an interesting manner:
In Killdeer's Field is much like the Zen koan about the moon reflected on the
water--in order to get the most out of it, one must look to where the words point as opposed to looking at just the words themselves. Much of what Mr. Cope is trying to say belongs in the realm outside of words, but he nevertheless leads the reader right up to that land and says "there." In the beginning and the end there is beauty and wholeness, as long as one does not waste a lifetime staring at the finger.