Roderick Townley


Roderick Townley


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Roderick Townley
is a Kansan by adoption, having moved here with his family from New York City in 1990. It is in Kansas that half of his twelve published books were written. Among his works are two volumes of poetry, Three Musicians and Final Approach, as well as two volumes of literary criticism, an adult novel, several works of nonfiction, and five children's novels (the latter published by Simon & Schuster).

Kansas is where Townley, in this one way like L. Frank Baum, found his way back to childhood; for it is here that his children's novels were written. Three of them (The Great Good Thing, Into the Labyrinth, and The Constellation of Sylvie) comprise a trilogy, The Sylvie Cycle, which has been optioned for film.

Townley continues, however, his commitment to poetry, publishing in a number of anthologies and magazines, including The Paris Review, The Yale Review, The North American Review, etc. The recipient of a Kansas Arts Commission fellowship, he has been honored by The Academy of American Poets, The Peregrine Prize, The Thorpe Menn Award, and The Kansas Governor's Arts Award.


The Red Blouse


Across Kansas on cruise control

he drives toward a woman's body.

Stubbled fields flush orange


in the final light. He squeezes

the pedal . . . 75 . . . 80,

a mad organist playing his deepest note.


Ahead 200 miles, a woman

crosses a room, sweetens

her tea, meets with students. But


something's off. A humming

like bees, like tires over darkening roads,

patrols her mind.


She searches the mirror for clues.

A coil of hair, loosened, hangs

like a bell-pull. She pins it up. No


use. Nothing is any use.

She touches her breast lightly

through the red blouse.


Originally published in The Yale Review;
also in Poetry: An Introduction (4th ed.),
edited by Michael Meyer. NY, St. Martin's Press, 2004






A trick of October light

made festive the trek we

took to the empty beach,


the four of us (five

counting the box

tucked in the knapsack).


You to thank, Mother,

for my bare feet in the sand,

brother beside me, wives


to the right, the sea's

blue cylinders rolling up,

rolling slowly away.


We fought open the lid,

looked at each other,

and waded in, two brothers


for once shoulder to shoulder

in an enterprise. He

dug in first, flung fistfuls


into the wind, flecks of

crushed bone sinking at once,

finer granules riding


in little cloud puffs, as if

from a last cigarette.

Then I joined in, gripped


by a wild, grieving joy,

till the thing was done. I let

receding water run


over my numbed fingers,

and stared out: blue, blue.

Lovely to turn, then,


and see the women

waiting on higher ground,

windblown and waving us home.


Originally published in The Paris Review 

Mozart's Pigtail


I was braiding Mozart's hair,

morning sun


filling the room (Con-

stanze nowhere to be seen), when


all at once (you won't

believe it) the man


jumps up and makes a run

for the piano. I trot


behind, still holding

his pigtail, mind you, even


when he sits

and starts in. I know some


who'd have taken offense.

Not I. I remember once,


I was doing Frau von H.,

I abandoned an elaborate coif


at a whim (I can't call it

anything else), and went


for swirl. She loved it. "You

are an artist!" she cried.


He's the same. In fact,

so lovely a largo


it was that I

let go, although


the braid unwound

and I had to begin again.

Originally published in Western Humanities Review



The Silk Dress


You have been going down

dawdling when suddenly she

sweeps up the staircase, her


loose hair streaming, her dress

an avalanche of lost

messages. Turn


on you heel. After her.

In a moment reverse

a lifetime of error.

















All poetry on this page
Roderick Townley, 2006 


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