The odyssey, as such, continues.  The Gallatin River is flooding but not cresting until Saturday, it seems, so we're driving through the cold rain with the sniffles and a cat who is pulling his fur out with his teeth.  The poems seem far away.  No time to stop at the fabled Wright/Roethke/Hugo bar (next time, Rob!),  instead, we've made do with what there is on this road: preachers and country music.

I had hoped to find a couple bookstores today--one in Idaho to see what of the Ezuversity might be showcased in Pound's home state, and then one in Montana to see if Robert Lowie's Crow Texts might have a home on the shelf.  All in vain until West Yellowstone, where I find a copy of Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End and pick it up on Eileen's recommendation (how have I not read this book yet?).   More on that later.  For now, we've got this preacher with an Irish brogue exhorting us to (no shit) "forgo publication and concentrate on that one reader who matters: the Lord, your God."

No disrespect intended, but I think I'm angling for readers a bit more, uh, responsive?  Though I'm sure if there is a God s/he/it has no qualms about commenting on Harriet, right?  Drop me a line down there if you're reading, will you?  Just a bit of market research.

Anyways, the station seeks and there's only some--oh dear--new country but lo smiles all around because of it.

I mean, it's not a huge shock.  Neither my wife Monica nor I are people who profess to love only the country music found on hipster bar jukies.  I mean, I love that stuff too, but that's playing with house money.  No risk.   Here, under a low and gray Montana sky, we get 20 new country hits in a row, and each time I have no idea what's going to happen, but after a few I'm pretty sure it's going to make me happy.

No numbers trouble here.  Without comment, the DJ alternates male and female singers for the duration, each new number seeming then to be in conversation with the last.  "My man loves me the way I am," sings the lady.  "You ain't much fun since I quit drinkin'," sings the man (the man, I later find out, being that toad-lipped jingoistic charlatan Toby Keith!  And I liked it!).  "She wears high heels I wear sneakers," sings the love-crazed teen.  "Shh, it happens," chuckles the band.

The same kinds of conversations happen on hip-hop radio from time to time, but you'll never hear it on classic rock stations or KEXP (a station I love, by the way).  Too stupid for the former, too polite for the latter, I guess.  Anyways, I know it's much cooler to expound on the lyrical virtuosity of Doom or that guy from the Decembrists, but why not this stretch of road and this station?  Can Jamie Johnson get a little love?  Miranda Lambert?  Even Bocephus sounds good to me here, and apparently Toby Keith can put a grin on my face.  You get a little story, a little word play, and just a bit of whatchacallit joie de vivre.  If only poetry could do so much (not to say I hate poetry or anything, just . . . well, sometimes I guess I hate it, but it's a funny kind of hate.  All tingly).

Of course, it all seems off again when we come into range of a new station an hour or two later, but until I can crack back into Mountains and Rivers Without End, country radio and the eye-busting beauty of the landscape will have to keep me through.

Originally Published: June 2nd, 2009

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. June 2, 2009
     Bruno LeBon

    I remember singing out loud to some sweet young gal "headlights on the highway, two hands at the wheel". Maybe it was the mushrooms, but probably it was the "reasonable" speed limits, and montana flew by.

  2. June 2, 2009
     michael robbins

    Dude, please buy me a souvenir. Preferably cow-related.