Sunday, September 26, 2010

Steve Abbott's Abandoned Field

Steve Abbott, who died of AIDS in 1989, is another forgotten California poet. As in Kenneth Rexroth’s poem for Andree, Steve wrote an interesting poem on the early death of his spouse, and I thought it would be  interesting to compare both poems. But Steve's poem is quite long, so I chose another that is equally elegiac in tone, written after a terminal love affair:


     Walking This Abandoned Field
                                    –– by Steve Abbott

     Walking this abandoned field I am looking
     for something inside myself, an old
     shovel perhaps or some evidence of planted seed.
     I come upon a tree
     much like one I used to climb as a boy
     & lying down, my eyes
     roam over the frayed hatband of evening sky.

     That is how I used to feel loving you.
     How sweet the air smelled then, like rain
     in Nebraska after a field was plowed.
     Now all I can see is this tree
     & the memory of how high we once climbed.


Steve Abbott was interested in the many substantial translations of Asian poetry which started to appear more and more frequently in the 1970's, and this poem presents a trope you see often in Song-period Chinese poems, where the poetic subject wanders about an abandoned Buddhist temple or graveyard or a field behind a ramshackle farmhouse, the kind of ruinous environments you might often see in 17th c. Dutch rustic paintings.

Like much Chinese poetry, it eschews metaphor in favor of a realistic description of wherever the poet finds himself materially, in this case in an abandoned cornfield in Nebraska, where all cornfields look equally devastated in early November perhaps, long after the fields have been plowed and the crops harvested, and before the first snows of winter arrive. If you're aware of such desolate  flattened landscapes, you know that sometimes there does appear a black layer of murky cloud that looks indeed like a frayed hatband circumscribing the horizon at sunset.

But of course this isn't a real landscape, is it. It's an interior landscape, an empty field of the mind when all the big emotions are gone and plowed under and their tracks lie scattered about, and you're left stumbling around your own vacant interiors, and there's nothing more to do except rehearse the memories of good times gone, as they blow about like tumbleweed across an abandoned field.


From Wrecked Hearts, Dancing Horse Press.
© 1980 by Stephen E. Abbott.

Steve Abbott was interested in many forms of poetry, but because of his abiding interest in Chinese and Japanese literature, I award him membership in the School of Perceptual Palpability.
More about Steve at



  1. this is nicely done. i wrote this into a song with Steve back in 1978 and recorded it in 2013. i'd like to include your commentary as text at the end of the video.

  2. Hi sax3, you're certainly welcome to the commentary -- I'd be happy to hear your song, if convenient -- I'm at