stories from home
A bullroarer is a a flat oval shaped piece of
wood with a double string attached to one end. It is spun over the head by the
other end of the string. The sound is a hauntingly beautiful whirring, caused
by the wood spinning as air moves across it, and the string twists and untwists.
My memory is vague, but goes like
Grandpa standing on the lawn
at the old house, showing me a woodblock
painted with stormclouds, lightning and rain,
in his other hand a leather thong
tied to the block, and at the right time
he begins, wood circling his head,
leather slicing the silence
until the sound unleashed, I swear,
is a rainstorm. Bullroarer,
as if passing to me a sacred name.
Over dinner it comes up:
he worked in the slaughterhouses in Omaha.
He was only half way through high school then,
but when the depression hit,
his brother moved and he found work
where he could find it. He said
he had nightmares at first, the sound of boxcars
moving through cattleyards
crashing together in sequence, from the distance
becoming thunder approaching.
Something in that sound
smacked of blood, carried a memory
white-eyed and bawling.
He went west: worked mostly dirt
out where the only sounds were silence
and storm, each far on the horizon.
Storm tightens a farmer's heart,
The way lightning makes wind crazy,
growing thick and sweet, the aroma of storm,
cattle locked in their pens
baying all night, panicked and slobbering,
clattering horn against horn. They could
the whole fence, he said, rattle split-posts
like wheels buckling railroad ties.
Grandpa showed me the bullroarer
only once and gave it to me,
never spoke its name again,
something, he said, to keep.
And in keeping I find significance
each night circling the tracks outside my window,
the same engine inside that bullroarer
static, yet spinning, something
that refuses words, something singing
with the energy of motion. Call it train,
call it thunder, but there is something
white-eyed and bawling that stares and storms
generation into generation, something
demanding a sacred name, something
spinning of its own determinate will:
call it wind, call it breath.
Ted Genoways' first collection of poems, Bullroarer,
was selected by Marilyn Hacker for the Samuel French Morse Poetry
Prize and published by Northeastern University Press in 2001. The
book has since received the Natalie Ornish Award for the Best First
Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters and is a finalist
for the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. Genoways is also the author
of three chapbooks of poetry and editor of several books, including
The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernandez
Ted can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
His Web site address is www.tedgenoways.com