Poet and novelist Woiwode (My Dinner with Auden, 2007, etc.) ponders matters of life, death and what lies between.
The author used to be a resident of Manhattan, writing for William Maxwell at the New Yorker and enjoying big-city life until, one day, he “read in the New York Times that breathing the city air was equal to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, at a time when I was up to two myself.” Country life beckoned, first East and then way out West, in the scarcely inhabited wilds of western North Dakota, where he is now poet laureate and where, tending to a dozen or so horses and a bunch of cats, he grows enough wheat, he notes with satisfaction, to feed a few thousand people. He is possibly the only Dakota wheat farmer to quote punk goddess Patti Smith in defense of farming, and he is among the few writers of the present age who knows how to grow pasta—no minor thing. And no more dirty air: Now death stalks him in a different guise, hiding, say, in the gears of a tractor’s power takeoff. Death is a fact of life, and not just out on the farm: This gentle memoir sets out from the author’s vantage of a vigorous 63 years (“a year older than my father when he died”) and weaves its way across the decades, often calling on the now departed. Woiwode directly addresses his son throughout, a young man who had his own bad tangle with a tractor but made it through, only to go on to fly helicopters in Iraq. The device sometimes seems an afterthought, but the finely honed meditations are not: “I imagine death as a . . . stepping down to levels of loss, but death is an end, not the continuing dispersal I’m contending with.”
Both elegant and elegiac—vintage Woiwode.