Susan Scarlata on Collier Nogues, grime and waiting

Collier Nogues’ “A Small Hot Town” starts with a parallel reference to its title through a pronoun immediately standing in for the noun “town.” With the tiny possessiveness within “its” we are shown how tightly connected the river and this “hot town” are. This connectivity is the larger setting the “I” of the poem speaks to us from within in the lines:

I spend a lot of time
waiting in the car,

nail file dust sifting

onto the gearshift.

I am stopped here, I am sure to some degree because I have experienced this same “lot of time/waiting in the car,” and likely not even waiting for anything in particular, but still waiting. These simple, expository lines perfectly capture an experience I have had, but that I would never have thought to write down. I love that Nogues has written it down, and that the sentence and lines finish with this reference to nail file dust, which conjures the smallest ways that our bodies break down in the spaces we inhabit. Cars have always been that to me, spaces I inhabit, the gearshift something that I clean from the dust and food-bits and general grime that collects as me and my people exist within them.

These lines thrill me in their simplicity and in how much “A Small Hot Town” exists within them on their own.

["A Small Hot Town" first appeared in the Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day.]

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