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Vermont Exit Ramps

“Who will claim the kingdom of exit ramps and cloverleafs/on the hillsides of I-89, these realms of birch and pine/rippling in mountain wind on a spring day, domains of quiet/forgetfulness, places ravaged and recovered…?” Of course the answer is patent: Neil Shepard will claim that kingdom. We might charge him with asking a purely rhetorical question but that the very rhetoric that follows proves so fine, the intimate knowledge it reflects so cogent, and the vision it bears so unusual, that such a charge immediately nullifies itself. We’ve long known this poet for his mastery of language, but in this extraordinarily inventive collection he shows himself a master too of both accuracy and invention. Dear reader, you will never again pass an exit ramp in Vermont or elsewhere as once you did.” (Sydney Lea)

VERMONT EXITS

 

Who will claim the kingdom of exit ramps and clover-leafs

on the hillsides of I-89, these realms of birch and pine 

 

luffing in mountain wind on a spring day, domains of quiet

forgetfulness, places ravaged and recovered –

 

these little demesnes of bedstraw and clover

harboring deer and bear, who stare at cars

 

grinding past, a driver’s hands crossed around the curve,

a driver’s mind attuned to the bend and merge

 

of traffic motoring down hillsides to the towns –

perhaps a deer lifts its head from grazing, its jaw

 

grinding sideways, its ears alive to the downshift of gears

or simple wind along the ridgeline, beech leaves scratching 

 

over moss and duff. One might slow or stop here 

for a quick piss or a picnic of wood sorrel and ribgrass, 

 

young dandelion and fiddlehead,

or might imagine a small cabin of clay and wattles made

 

claiming this place no one claims, the heavy machinery 

having rattled past and gouged a pasture elsewhere, this place

 

that reminds us of the quiet, neglected places inside  

that flourish nonetheless, already ravished and recovered.

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