Kim McElhatten on Mark Wunderlich and home

The lines in Mark Wunderlich’s poem, “Driftless Elegy” remind me of home, of Northwest Pennsylvania. They remind me of the bridges shut over French Creek, the now-closed Golden Dawn grocery, the condemned Meadville mall, the outsourced Talon Factory, and the subdivided or gas-pad littered farms. But more than these, they remind me what it is like to travel home–to find myself in my own driftless elegy–mourning for what is gone, mourning for the decay and decline of my own rural community.

My favorite lines of “Driftless Elegy” help me better understand my own mourning:

I am the end of a genetic line—a family dies with me.
This is hardly a tragedy. We are not an impressive group,

in intellect or physical form. With weak hearts, myopic,
we paddle lazily down the human genome,

pausing to root briefly here on the riverbank
in the shade of these limestone bluffs.

At first read, I get a sense that the speaker mourns his own mortality. But upon a second and third reading, I pick up on the word myopic and I wonder if I my reading is nearsighted. When Wunderlich writes, “to root briefly…in the shade of these limestone bluffs,” I recognize that the things in “Driftless Elegy” are all like the limestone bluffs, easily eroded and impermanent.

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