Original poem reprinted online here: "Then I Packed You Up the Ridge Like a Brother on My Back" by Joe Wilkins
Originally read: August 12, 2013
More information about the Poet: Joe Wilkins
The poem is dependent on couplets. Furthermore, the poem is dependent on how the reader interprets the couplets. Even from the title, the line break to create the couplet separates the simile from the known, but also nature against the personal. The poem goes back and forth between these topics until the end.
The first two couplets sets up the scene with the first couplet setting up a macro, "In the blue dark I followed the ridge / toward the pines." and then the micro, "In a bowl of sage and dry grass / soft as the throat hairs" note with the description tries to be appeal on the visual and tactile scale, but since the simile bleeds on through to the next line with, "of something small," and the line has a tinge of something visceral, of something viewed from above.
"I lay down." resets the line by introducing the speaker; but, "The sun was a long time coming, / the earth bloodless at my belly," once again brings a sense of violence and visceral not only to the setting, but now onto the speaker. And even though this couplet is a "nice" calm image, "the stars closing their bright mouths, / the dew a gift on your lips" the next couplet adds tension because of the calm, "You did not see me, or my rifle,"
"Prey" that's the first word I put on the line -- and the images and tone hints that the "I" is more of the hunter here -- or rather a voyeur in control of the "you." "blue as the dark. I saw you / step from the willows" the couple traces the steps and then the visceral climax happens in the next two couplets:
give your nose the black water.
And you were beautiful. There is so much
blood in a thing--
yours welled up from the clean hole.
Note that I tied bloodless (the I) to the blood (the you). Also note how the tone of the speaker in "And you were beautiful" comes off a bit cold in the vision of the brutal scene. But here it's also important to note that the speaker is in control of scene. And further control with, "I made in your heart and streamed / on the river stones" The speaker takes a literal (or metaphorical) piece of the you and "cleanses" it.
"and some washed down into the river, / where it swirled a moment, / and became the breath of fish." Here is the question. Is this a couplet and an extra line, or a tercet? I feel this is a tercet in logic and theme, but a separation from the emotion. Yes, the lines has a sense of a beauty surreal comparison -- from blood to the cleansing to a breath.
But note the image is such a focus here that the speaker is interpreting and predicting what the image should become. The image of the you -- a clean hole in the heart with an undefined body.