They Build a Hogan in Coal Canyon, Arizona

You must sit down and taste. —George Herbert
That morning, Gilmore and Mary Frances
sacrificed a lamb for us.
Gilmore said,
With a cool hand,
I slit the throat,
the lamb did not suffer.
We gathered around the lambskin-draped picnic table.
Direct from the open fire,
we ate everything.
The kidney was the best.
It was tiny—
we shared.
We ate
the ribs,
the shanks,
the liver,
the lungs,
the heart.
With a stick, Frances turned the intestines inside out
and washed them with canyon water.
Greenish liquid dribbled into a bucket.
The bundles of intestines, like braids,
sizzled on the open fire.
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3 years 6 months ago
Ken Novak
3 years 6 months ago
I have only seen only two responses to this poem (one reprinted in the letters section of the print magazine), and both assessments of this poem have not been complimentary. Allow me to ask those who linger over the words, to give it another look. Like scripture, art sometimes requires a type of anagogic vision, a lifting of the veil in a sense. Usually, and in the case of America (magazine), their poetry selection discerns much more behind the words than just physical rawness. I would suggest reading George Herbert's verse "Love" (#286) that begins "LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,/Guilty of dust and sin." Herbert offers a wonderful framework for engaging this poem. Guillory has seemingly presented a grotesque meal, but to me it undoubtedly signifies the Eucharist. Furthermore, the Passover lamb (kosher killed) must be completely consumed. Please look at Exodus 12, specifically "Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it" (Exodus 12:9). The wilderness of Coal Canyon (a very remote place) draws us to make the Passover connection even further and maybe a playing on Milton's "Paradise Regained." "Gilmore," a name that translates to "Servant of the Virgin Mary" works with Mary Frances to prepare the meal. Frances and the Hogan ("how good it is that we are here, let us build three booths..."/transfiguration moment) may point us toward the Franciscans & their work with the Navajo. The Navajo had to really work on new interpretation of the meaning of "sacrifice" (see The Navajo as Seen by the Franciscans 1898-1921, pg 555). Finally, for our gut reaction, we can feel like those at the end of St. John's "Discourse on the Bread of Life" -- "these teachings are hard, who can accept them?" (John 6:60). A little bit of time and faith and wrangling, and all of a sudden you realize what some may call "disgusting" is perhaps the most important thing the world ever received. I think there is a lot in this little poem, maybe even the Infinite.
Larry Janowski
3 years 6 months ago
As a poet, I was intrigued to see (in the print issue) the criticism {titled "Open Fire") by Justus George Lawler of Stella Jen Guilory's poem, "They Build a Hogan in Coal Canyon, Arizona." What kind of poem could generate so strong a reaction? Having read the poem, I can now understand Lawler's reaction, but it is I think very much a reaction rather than a response. I appreciate Ken Nowak's thoughtful comments about going back to re-read the poem, especially with the insights and background he offers on both Hebrew sacrifice and the Eucharist. This is not a "pretty" poem nor an easy one, but it is honest and profound, and challenges the reader to think about what "sacrifice" means. As an added dimension, there are also the implications of a diet that includes meat. I congratulate the poet for submitting a "hard" poem, and the editor/s for publishing it. I may very well put this poem on my students' reading list next semester. Oh, and I think America Magazine is still respectable! LJ


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