Nebraska 11 – Billy Collins ‘The Sandhill Cranes of Nebraska’

Another bit-part for the state of Nebraska, in a fine poem:

Too bad you weren’t here six months ago,
was a lament I heard on my visit to Nebraska.
You could have seen the astonishing spectacle
of the sandhill cranes, thousands of them
feeding and even dancing on the shores of the Platte River.

There was no point in pointing out
the impossibility of my being there then
because I happened to be somewhere else,
so I nodded and put on a look of mild disappointment
if only to be part of the commiseration.

It was the same look I remember wearing
about six months ago in Georgia
when I was told that I had just missed
the spectacular annual outburst of azaleas,
brilliant against the green backdrop of spring

and the same in Vermont six months before that
when I arrived shortly after
the magnificent foliage had gloriously peaked,
Mother Nature, as she is called,
having touched the hills with her many-colored brush,

a phenomenon that occurs, like the others,
around the same time every year when I am apparently off
in another state, stuck in a motel lobby
with the local paper and a styrofoam cup of coffee,
busily missing God knows what.

Such a simple, delightful poem about many things, one being naming/names. It makes me think of Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop – not because of its content, especially as Thomas takes in all that he actually sees, if briefly, as the train pauses at the station – but because it is the name of that poem which always stands to the fore, and the opening lines

Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name…

As I said, Nebraska has a bit-part in Collins’ poem, but it is, in fact, more memorable than Georgia or Vermont, I think, and not just because I come from and look for a reference to Nebraska: it is the clear, crisp syllables, and that mix of consonants and vowels.

Isn’t it? Perhaps we don’t expect a poem about Nebraska to reference sandhill cranes. Cows and corn perhaps.

There is also that sense of loss and missing, but Collins doesn’t make it a poem of longing or disappointment. There is a pragmatism in the acceptance, but above all there is an affirmation of the creative ability to imagine/describe what hasn’t been seen, pulling the rug from under the lamenting urges from others. I’ll call them ‘do-gooder’ urges!


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