Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

Explaining a Poem to a Student

I’m spending a lot of time lately revising older poems for new books that will soon be coming out, so I’ve got poetry on my mind.

The following is a poem of mine that some student at another university got stuck with on an assignment; it was in some text or anthology that her class was using. Since it deals with a favorite theme of mine, I thought I’d pass along the poem and my response to the student’s questions.

Redneck with Hair on His Back
(Denton, Texas, 1990)

Standing here in his muscle shirt at the bar,
with hair on his back and chest
and tufted like the stuff of nests
in opposing crotches
of a too familiar tree,
he is little more than an upright ape
who has learned the alphabet.
With his woman he is not gentle,
preferring her in her anxious state,
taking her when he will, and
the children fear his thundering voice.

This, God’s finest creation, whose
eyebrows now have drifted from his cheekbones
like continents over time until he sees clearly
between them with his dark eyes
and reasons well behind them
in that smoking vault of the brain
where he knows what women are made for
and when to come in from the rain.

-40-

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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