Idyll for a Vanishing River

Idyll for a Vanishing River

Jeffrey Alfier

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Jeff Alfier’s collection Idyll for a Vanishing River maps out a vast, battered landscape—everything from the broken Americana of abandoned quicksilver mines and truck stops, to “the salt pan of dead ocean” that is now refuge to pumas stalking amongst ghost flowers. With a cartographer’s sharp eye and an inherited “peasant’s/ faith in work,” Alfier uses Death Valley warning signs and relief maps as guides not just for Southwestern haunts, but as legends and keys for charting and traversing the desertscape of a mind weathered by this rough terrain. These poems are elegiac, dusty, and uncover for us—like fossils peaking from the rocky ground—culture’s achievements nestled inside its failings, the simple truth “that borders are illusions, maps a myth.” He allows us to tramp alongside him through this “beggared Eden,” generously offering up the whole way harshly rich images that are as “strong as the soil that welds your sweat to plows/ year in and year out.” This collection is a vivid and startling portrait, a fine example of the music that can be found in the “silence of extinction.”

— Mark J. Brewin, Jr., author of Scrap Iron, winner of the 2012 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry