John Struloeff (2009)
This fellowship is truly a godsend. My second collection of poems has been developing slowly due to the heavy demands of my job, and so, combined with a course reduction for the Spring 2009 semester at Pepperdine, this fellowship will allow me the extra time to draft and revise a great deal of this new collection and will help pay for my writing-related travel this year, including a trip to Russia I have been long delaying until now. With my second collection, I am moving beyond my roots in the mountains and river valleys in Oregon to a much larger terrain, looking into other parts of the U.S. and world, casting back in time, trying to capture a larger mosaic of the human condition. Since the birth of my son, I have felt more of a need to look outside of myself and my limited experience, to look at historical and cultural context, to try to learn from other lives, and this expansion of my literary tapestry has been both exhilarating and daunting. My heartfelt thanks to the NEA, the award panel, and the taxpayers who fund this wonderful institution.
The Man I Was Supposed To Be
The man I was supposed to be works
in a small cedar mill in Oregon.
The heel of his left boot is worn smooth
by the way the engage lever makes him stand,
the shift he has to make, grinding his heel,
a slow turn as the log carriage feeds the wood
that will shriek against the rolling blade.
He watches the blade eight hours a day,
and when he goes home to sleep,
he sees the blade rolling in the dark.
The man I was supposed to be has two sons,
and when his youngest is loud he twists his ear,
watching for the boy's eyes to well with tears.
Knock off the racket, he says. The TV's on.
If the boy does it again, he grabs him by his hair,
drags him to his room, then watches TV in silence,
the way it is supposed to be.
The man I was supposed to be buys beer in a case
and drives around at night, looking for a friend
to drink it with. He drinks until his face is numb
and awakens on the cement floor of his garage,
lying flat on his back, his arms spread.
Both of his hands are bleeding.
The man I was supposed to be tracks deer
on the leaf-covered trails behind his house.
There is a doe ahead of him somewhere,
and he kneels to place his fingertips on its tracks.
That night he will smell the rawness of warm bone
and blood. It will hang in his garage seven days
until he begins to separate the loosened joints
and carefully strip the flesh. He will do it alone,
at night, his forearms and hands coated in blood.
Like the stink of beer-sweat and fresh cedar dust,
this odor will stay in his skin for days.
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John Struloeff grew up in the mountainous rainforests of northwestern Oregon. His debut poetry collection, The Man I Was Supposed to Be, was published by Loom Press in 2008, with individual poems in The Atlantic Monthly, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, PN Review, and elsewhere. His awards include a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, and both the Weldon Kees and Tennessee Williams Scholarships. He has taught at Stanford University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he received both his MA and PhD in English. Currently he directs the creative writing program at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
Photo by Cynthia Struloeff