I live by train tracks and listening to them rumble by a few dozen times per day had me thinking of this.
Uncle Ben’s Sonnet
Uncle Ben was on the roof, drunk no less,
with a BB gun, shooting up old cans
when he shot my cousin Rick in the face.
The worst thing he ever did though was get
himself hit by a train, dead instantly,
leaving my Aunt Bernice with nothing but
8 kids, breast cancer, and a single wide.
You might wonder if it was suicide,
We say don’t think, what’s done is done is done.
Dad gave a brief but perfect eulogy:
“He was dumb as a shovel but you bet
he could work one for decent pay.
I hope the damn fool had life insurance.”
Forever and ever Amen, I guess.
I wrote this back when I was studying poems in college, and it got published in The North American Review, which was founded in 1815 and is “The nation’s longest-lived literay magazine and among its most distinguished.” At the time I was quite pleased with myself.
Now though, I am more wary about it. At the time, I had always lived in places with single wides, and it was a sad story that I wanted to tell in the matter of fact way that it happened. I wanted to try to whittle the whole big mess down to its bones. And, I did see the irony of setting this story in the sonnet format with the post-modern twisted up rhyme scheme, but more because I thought it lent a kind of grim elegance.
Now, I am more aware of the voices of people who think that rural poverty is funny, and I think that I wouldn’t have written this poem today.