This could be a bad precedent for a writer to set, but you might want to keep a bottle of Maalox at hand as you read this article. Our subject is bad poetry—which is to say, the only kind of poetry written in Texas from its pre-Republic days until around 1936, its centennial year. Here’s an example:
I DIG GRAVES; DO YOU? More and more people are discovering the fun of exploring old and historic cemeteries. I call this “graving,” though some aficionados prefer the term “grave crawling,” a phrase that brings to mind the immortal childhood lyric “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out . . .” If that mental image makes you squirm, you’re not alone; thanatophobia—a highfalutin word meaning the fear of death and its trappings—is deeply buried in the American psyche. But believe it or not, going graving is apt to cure you.
“LOOKS LIKE THEY’VE GOT SOMETHING RIGHT NOW,” drawls John Huff, a wildlife technician at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s office in Three Rivers. We’ve been driving down a dirt road on the Rehm Ranch outside Sabinal for about ten minutes, following Huff’s hunting dogs, when they veer off into the brush, barking.
Here they are. The soft eyes open. / If they have lived in a wood / It is a wood. / If they have lived on plains / It is grass rolling / Under their feet forever. James Dickey, “The Heaven of Animals”
MY TEN-YEAR-OLD SON, Keith, is a bright child who brings home good grades from a fine school in suburban Chicago, but when I asked him over dinner one evening if he could draw a picture of the Illinois state flag, he hesitated, looked embarrassed, and finally said, “I don’t think so.” After an awkward moment, his face brightened as he remembered where I grew up. “But I can draw the Texas flag,” he announced proudly.
ON THE NIGHT OF AUGUST 9, 1862, some 68 armed men and boys from Comfort and the surrounding Hill Country set up camp beside the Nueces River, about ninety miles from home. They were Union sympathizers—most of them German immigrants—fleeing to Mexico to avoid conscription into the Confederate Army. By the next evening nineteen were dead, killed by Confederate troops who had followed them from the Hill Country. Some were killed in combat, but others were shot after they had surrendered.
ALLEGO’S MEXICAN FOOD RESTAURANT in Alpine is not—or, I should say, was not—the sort of place to catch a traveler’s attention. Nothing about the nondescript white building on the south side of U.S. 90 suggested that it was a cultural and civic icon. Had I not been looking for it, I might have missed it. The highway splits into two one-way thoroughfares just before it reaches the restaurant, diverging at a McDonald’s.
IN TEXAS PAEANS TO THE PECAN COME NATURALLY. Not only is the pecan our state tree, but nuts from Texas, where the pecan is believed to have originated millions of years ago, are still the biggest and the best in the world. In the sixteenth century several Native American tribes subsisted on Texas pecans a couple of months out of every year. The Texas A&M Aggies, people who know their football and their nuts, named their football stadium in honor of a longtime professor of pecan culture, Edwin Jackson Kyle.