Poet's Choice: "In a Beautiful Country" by Kevin Prufer

Prufer Kevin.jpgI live in a tiny town in Missouri, about 10 miles down Highway 50 from Whiteman Air Force Base. Several times a day, a B-2 bomber flies above my classroom, rumbling, beautiful and terrifying.

Sometimes, my students come to class in fatigues. They finish their homework between military and family duties. During the run-up to the Iraq War, I felt a palpable sort of tension in the local restaurants, the coffee shop, the Wal-Mart down the highway. On the one hand, we were quick to express patriotic feelings, nationalistic pride and a desire for revenge after 9/11. On the other hand, our military adventures, recounted endlessly on TV, would have very real, measurable impacts on our lives and the lives of our co-workers, loved ones and students. Today, most everyone in Warrensburg, Mo. knows someone at risk in Afghanistan, someone fighting in Iraq, someone making contingency plans for their families when they will have to be away.

"In a Beautiful Country" was born out of this anxiety and tension. In retrospect, those feelings of pride, ably manipulated by our own government and media, seem sinister. I suppose the "gold-haired girl" in the poem represents to me not the "beautiful country" of the poem's title, but an impostor version of that country we came to trust, a lovely voice distracting us from the truth of war, death and political incompetence. Here, falling in love-- with an idea, a voice -- becomes both intoxicating and, at least metaphorically, suicidal.

In a Beautiful Country

A good way to fall in love
is to turn off the headlights
and drive very fast down dark roads.

Another way to fall in love
is to say they are only mints
and swallow them with a strong drink.

Then it is autumn in the body.
Your hands are cold.
Then it is winter and we are still at war.

The gold-haired girl is singing into your ear
about how we live in a beautiful country.
Snow sifts from the clouds

into your drink. It doesn't matter about the war.
A good way to fall in love
is to close up the garage and turn the engine on,

then down you'll fall through lovely mists
as a body might fall early one morning
from a high window into love. Love,

the broken glass. Love, the scissors
and the water basin. A good way to fall
is with a rope to catch you.

A good way is with something to drink
to help you march forward.
The gold-haired girl says, Don't worry

about the armies, says, We live in a time
full of love
. You're thinking about this too much.
Slow down. Nothing bad will happen.


This poem originally appeared in "Poetry" magazine. Kevin Prufer is the editor of "Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing."

By Ron Charles |  January 26, 2010; 8:27 PM ET Poet's Choice
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