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Why the telephone wires dip and the poles are cracked and crooked

January 17, 2016

By John Updike

In the introduction to his collected poems 1953-1993 Updike wrote:

“The very first poem here, bearing a comically long title, yet conveyed, with a compression unprecedented in my brief writing career, the mythogenetic truth of telephone wires and poles marching across a stretch of Pennsylvania farmland. I still remember the shudder, the triumphant sense of capture, with which I got those lines down, not long after my twenty-first birthday”.

In 2011 his son Michael carved the poem on the back of a memorial stone in Robeson church cemetery in Plowville, Pennsylvania, where some of Updike’s ashes are buried. According to the local paper (click here) the poet’s memory was faulty; he had composed it at age 16.

Whatever. It’s pretty good.

updike gravestone front   updike gravestone

The old men say
young men in gray
hung this thread across our plains
acres and acres ago.

But we the enlightened, know
in point of fact it’s what remains
of the flight of a marvellous crow
no one saw;
each pole a caw.

John Updike

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