The Brief Journey West

By Howard Nemerov 1920–1991 Howard Nemerov
By the dry road the fathers cough and spit,
This is their room. They are the ones who hung   
That bloody sun upon the southern wall   
And crushed the armored beetle to the floor.

The father’s skin is seamed and dry, the map
Of that wild region where they drained the swamp   
And set provision out that they might sit,
Of history the cracked precipitate,

Until the glass be shattered and the sun   
Descend to burn the prosperous flesh away   
Of the filthy world, so vilely fathered on   
The fathers, such black cinders, sitting there.

Old pioneers, what lecheries remain?
When schoolgirls pass, what whispers of their skirts,   
Cold gleams of flesh, solicit in your veined
And gemlike eyes the custom of desire?

None now. Their eyes are sunk in ancient flesh,   
And the sarcastic triumph of the mind
They now enjoy, letting their lust alone   
Who may have kin but have no longer kind.

Neither tomorrow’s monstrous tumor nor   
The reformation of the past they wish,   
Who hold in silent colloquy the world   
A shrivelled apple in the hand of God.

They hang at night their somber flags aloft,
And through the amorous dark pursue their theme   
Of common images, that sleep may show   
Them done with all disasters but the one.

Howard Nemerov, “The Brief Journey West” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977). Copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov.

Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (The University of Chicago Press, 1977)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Howard Nemerov 1920–1991

Subjects Time & Brevity, History & Politics, Love, Living, Relationships, Social Commentaries, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

 Howard  Nemerov

Biography

Howard Nemerov was a highly acclaimed poet often cited for the range of his capabilities and subject matter, "from the profound to the poignant to the comic," James Billington remarked in his frequently quoted announcement of Nemerov's appointment to the post of United States poet laureate. A distinguished professor at Washington University in St. Louis from 1969 to 1990, Nemerov wrote poetry and fiction that managed to engage . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, History & Politics, Love, Living, Relationships, Social Commentaries, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.