BRANCHES by Mitch Cullin


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Cullin returns (Whompyjawed, 1999) to gritty west Texas where lawmen, like Sheriff Branches, can be mean as hungry rattlers'and, to judge by this case, almost as complex. Branches tells his story in short, uneven lines of print centered on the page, leaving wide-open spaces spreading off to either side. This, one would conclude, is poetry, though in Cullin’s hands it’s wildly uneven indeed, swinging from tin-eared ludicrous ('Haven't had a bit to munch / since lunch, / and even then / it wasn't much') to character-abandoning profound ('My conclusion: / Man is made / of infinite arrogances, / a multitude of stupidities'). As the reader first meets him, Sheriff Branches is sitting with his back against the well of an old homestead ('twenty-two miles / into the heart of isolation') that, it turns out, is where his own mean-fathered childhood was spent, the place since burned to the ground (by the vengeful Branches himself). What’s happening just now, however, is that somebody is down in the well, ’splashing around / like a minnow' and screaming for help as Branches sits there thinking things over. Who’s in there? Well, it’s Branches' stepson Danny. How'd he get there? Well, Branches heaved him in'to join the two decomposing Mexicans whom he did the same with some time before. And why did he drop Danny'or the others, for that matter'in? And what'll he do next? These, undoubtedly, are questions best for readers themselves to find the answers to, and in their quest they'll also find out what Branches talks about when he talks to his gun ('Gun, / I hope you'll forgive / what I've done'), what he did to a gay man, to a lady traveler, and how much he loves 'being home / all cozy and relaxed' after 'a sad day’s work.' Still, says Branches, ’sometimes / it’s all so meaningless / I can't stop my brain / from flooding out my ears.' Yes, something like that.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-57962-061-2
Page count: 198pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000


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