Left Hand Canyon

By William Matthews 1942–1997 William Matthews

                           for Richard Hugo

The Rev. Royal Filkin preaches
tomorrow on why we are sad.
Brethren, Montana’s a landscape
requiring faith: the visible
government arrives in trucks,
if you live out far enough.
If you live in town, the government’s
gone, on errands, in trucks.

Let citizens go to meetings,
I’ll stay home. I hate a parade.
By the time you get the trout
up through the tiny triangular
holes in the Coors cans, they’re so
small you have to throw them back.
Glum miles we go
to Grandmother’s house.

The earth out here doesn’t bear us
up so much as it keeps us out,
an old trick of the beautiful.
Remember what Chief Left Hand said?
Never mind. Everything else
was taken from him,
let’s leave his grief alone.
My Eastern friends ask me

how I like it in the West,
or God’s country, as it’s sometimes
called, though God, like a slumlord,
lives in the suburbs: Heaven.
And I don’t live “in the West”;
I live in this canyon among a few
other houses and abandoned
mines, vaccinations that didn’t take.

William Matthews, “Left Hand Canyon” from Rising and Falling. Copyright © 1979 by William Matthews. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: Rising and Falling (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1979)

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

Poet William Matthews 1942–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Religion, God & the Divine, Social Commentaries

 William  Matthews


William Matthews's poetry has earned him a reputation as a master of well-turned phrases, wise sayings, and rich metaphors. Much of Matthews's poetry explores the themes of life cycles, the passage of time, and the nature of human consciousness. In another type of poem, he focuses on his particular enthusiasms: jazz music, basketball, and his children. His early writing was free-form and epigrammatic. As his career has . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Religion, God & the Divine, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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.