Liptovský Hrádok, Slovakia
(In his office a forest boss talks to an American)
They tell me your Grandfather is from this country—yes?
Yes, from the Liptov. Domovina.
Yes, thank you Miroslav.
Na zdravie. Okay you want to know about deer—yes?
Yes I do.
Pure Carpathian Jelen is a goddamn myth.
So you mean… Sure I’ll have another.
The Russian Marol and North American Wapati have,
how do you say… muddied the blood lines?
But this is good myth for us Slovaks.
Pure Jelen brings rich Austrian, German and Hungarian hunters here.
They want to shoot this deer.
You can see this in the color and shape of the horn
or you say antler—yes?
Okay so Jelen is not separate or special deer anymore. You understand?
This is good, you understand, I teach you. Na zdravie.
So you are married—yes?
She is American too?
Yes. Her mother is, but her father is British. She grew up in France.
She has three passports.
Where is she now?
At the flat with the kids.
Maybe she got horns?
What does that mean?
You see my thumbs and fingers wiggle, antlers you say.
Maybe she is not home where you left her but
goes to some big stag? … Or some big stag goes to her?
I don’t think so.
You don’t think so?
Okay we drink.
Sure, one more.
Now we go for some food for the stomach—yes?
Then maybe you want to meet some Slavic Dama?
Yes for food. No for Slovak Dama. A woman is not necessary.
You see my thumb on top my fuck-you finger?
Fist means, I say nothing to no one.
Come, we go.
Review by John Johnson (This review discusses all three of Goodworth’s poems in this issue)
Craig Goodworth’s set of three poems does textually what a triptych does visually. The word triptych, which means “three-fold,” is usually applied to a painting that’s divided into three sections. Each section could stand on its own as a separate work, but the three share common elements so that, taken together, they create a unified “fourth” work of art.
There are many elements in Goodworth’s poems that tie them together, some more obvious than others. To begin with, each poem is a vignette featuring two male figures: two men in the first two vignettes, a man and a boy in the third.
In each vignette there’s a female figure whom the males discuss and/or act upon: In the first, the “forest boss” and the “American” discuss going out for food and then for “some Slavic Dama.” In the second, two men try to raise an old mare that’s down in a creek. In the third, a boy and his uncle tend to a cow that’s calving.
While all three vignettes revolve around animals—deer, a horse, a cow—the first and third vignettes concern pregnancy-deliver or more generally, reproduction. Also, attached to the end of the third vignette, like a coda, are three, short lines: “middle-aged I wait / she tells me she just doesn’t feel / pregnant anymore.”
The three pieces also share a matter-of-fact quality. The actions that take place are not particularly dramatic: two men talk about deer and women; a horse dies; a calf is born. Neither are the characters charged with emotion. The American shows no reaction when the boss offers to introduce him to “some Slavic Dama.” The character Skip, in the second vignette, after he hears that his horse has died, asks John if he had to shoot her. “Nah, didn’t have to.” John says. “Seemed pretty dead.” In the last vignette, the boy narrates without any expression of his feelings, though this is probably the first time he’s ever seen “somethin’ get born.”
All three vignettes occur in particular places, which seems to be important: the title of the first piece is the name of a town in Slovakia; the title of the second, a location: “45 miles west of Pittsburgh.” The first words of the third vignette are “west of the Alleghenies,” which is also where you’ll find Pittsburgh. The second and third pieces are united more substantially through the character, John (vignette two), who is likely the boy’s unnamed uncle in the third vignette. John “prays for the horse the way he’d pray for heifers to calve before a storm.” In vignette three, the uncle says, “I prayed this heifer would calve before the worst of the weather.”
Reading these poems, I thought of Robert Frost, his rural settings and homely diction, the daily ritual of farm life he mined for metaphor: “There are many other things I have found myself saying about poetry,” Frost said, “but the chiefest of these is that it is metaphor, saying one thing and meaning another, saying one thing in terms of another…” Like Frost, Goodworth has written poems that are metaphors. Their flatness, their plainness, like still water, helps clarify them, encouraging the reader to look past their surfaces, into their depths.
One example of “saying one thing but meaning another” can be found in “45 miles west of Pittsburgh.” John, trying to raise a horse that’s down in a creek, speaks to it like a shepherd, saying, “We got to get you… back with the others.” Unable to raise the horse, he visits Skip, the horse’s owner. He tells Skip he found the horse after hearing a noise “like a lamb.” Skip joins him, and the two men go down to the creek. Upon seeing the horse, Skip says, “Jesus.” Both men together can’t raise the horse, and Skip leaves. Later, John prays for the horse. The language here evokes the story of John the Baptist. Placing a Biblical story within the frame of a triptych seems fitting since the triptych form arose from early Christian art. (Wikipedia) Also helpful in “seeing through” Goodworth’s poems is going to his homepage http://craiggoodworthart.squarespace.com/, where we learn that he’s “engaged in various collaborations and residencies relating art to science and religion.”
I recommend visiting his website. It includes among his many installations one he did while living in Slovakia, in which he projected images at night onto farm animals, the animals themselves nearly hidden in the shadows: a stony river bed projected onto the side of a cow, a collection of old hand tools projected onto the back of a pig. In other words, you see one thing on the surface and something different underneath, what might be called a visualization of metaphor itself.
As with triptych paintings, Goodworth’s three poems work together to create a fourth work of art, one that draws together death and birth, male and female, human sexuality and animal reproduction, letting us see the one in terms of the other. If we allow that the boy in the third vignette grows up to be the American in the first, the poems taken together suggest a man’s moral education. The forest boss taunts the American by suggesting that his wife may have a lover of her own, “some big stag,” and assures the American that he will “say nothing to no one.” But the American declines his offer, saying simply, “Yes for food. No for Slovak Dama.”
Review by Dennis Hinrichsen
These poems are slow burns toward profound truths about our relationship to each other and, initially, the animal world, but also to women (and the planet ultimately) as the poem continues with empathy and care as the root notes. I admire how they operate like scenes from a documentary and let place and language layer and build. “Liptovský Hrádok, Slovakia (In his office a forest boss talks to an American)” is so casual yet rich and resonant as the marred bloodlines of the deer which removes its purity and “specialness,” and ultimately, its worth, is set against the hybrid bloodlines of the wife as the dialectic between hunting deer / diminishing women and honoring both unfolds. And the poet here is so wise—he does not belabor the point. The characters speak. The scene ends. Reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions.
Review by Fred Pelka
A story inside a story and characters defined by their best intentions: these are among the many things I admire about these poems. There is both economy and richness, the details so finely etched. I come away wanting to know more about all of these people. I come away satisfied that I do.