Poet's Choice: 'Off a Side Road Near Staunton' by Stanley Plumly
I was coming back from a reading in southern Virginia, mid-October, driving along a major north-south highway. Looking to my right at the start in the change of color in the great hardwoods of the Shenandoah, my eye followed the ridge of the Blue Ridge itself. I had to stop. And at the first turn-off to a side road, I did. It was a Monday or a Tuesday, an ordinary day, no one in sight anywhere. Only the dull ocean underroar of distant truck traffic. It was a golden day, actually. The fields falling away in front of me were one kind after another -- pasture, lapsed meadow, cut corn, a few trees, then forest, then pine and hardwood going on and on up the mountains. I had long since got out of the car and walked a bit toward what was beginning to resemble a serious landscape in a painting, one of those that can go either way: trite or something discovered. It had started to rain, even though much of the sky was still clear and sunlit, mixed with clouds that seemed to run exactly with the tops of the treelines. Looking at it all, standing there a while, I saw it as a picture that might pull you in and give you permission to disappear, so that someone seeing it -- this landscape -- on a wall might pick you out as a small figure, so small as to be ambiguous, barely visible in a field at evening.
When I got home, I more or less wrote the poem as it stands: a 14-liner in couplets.
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OFF A SIDE ROAD NEAR STAUNTON
Some nothing afternoon, no one anywhere,
an early autumn stillness in the air,
the kind of empty day you fill by taking in
the full size of the valley and its layers leading
slowly to the Blue Ridge, the quality of the country,
if you stand here long enough, you could stay
for, step into, the way a landscape, even on a wall,
pulls you in, one field at a time, pasture and fall