turned out, be attacked by angry swans. Having arrived early, I seated myself on top of the statue called Philosophers’ Rock and, when he arrived, asked if he’d like to join me and my three bronzed companions: J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek and Walter Prescott Webb. My Texas writer friend had never heard of any of these men. There’s an ongoing dispute over whether this increasingly common disconnect is properly attributed to the fact that Texas has failed to properly promote the state’s literary heritage, or to McMurtry’s being right when he predicted that Dobie’s generation of writers wouldn’t age particularly well. I happen to be an exception, a youngish writer very much aware of Dobie, Bedichek and company, but this is more an accident of birth than anything else. I grew up in Abilene, a conservative West Texas city that’s a long way from most people’s idea of a literary hotbed, although it does happen to be just 44 miles from Cross Plains, where Robert E. Howard of Conan the Barbarian fame lived his entire life. As McMurtry wrote in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, “People on their way to Abilene might as well be on their way to hell…” \(A side note: An Abilenian friend of mine and I have long planned to write our response to that fine book, with the working title Dave Hickey In fact A.0 Greene was from Abilene, and a number of other writers spent time in and around the area, including Webb, Elmer Kelton and Stephen Harrigan. Both my parents are university librarians with a love for Texas and the Southwestmy father even wanted to name me Scooter Bill, the nickname of “Texas Troubadour” Ernest Tubb’s daughter. And my maternal grandfather, who grew up on a ranch outside Pecos, had been a Dobie fan. When I was awarded the fellowship, my mother gave me my grandfather’s copy of The Longhorns, signed by Dobie with his brand. Some mornings at Paisano, the wind blew such that I could hear the creek from the gallery porch, and I would sit out there reading The Longhorns, absorbing its quirky history and folklore. Even then I realized that the book connected me more to my grandfatherthe one who taught me as a child to taptap-tap stones with a stick to warn rattlesnakesthan to any flowering of Texas letters. Not to say I’m especially country. Even though I grew up around people to whom Texas was very important, it wasn’t until graduate school in Boston that I came to join them in their appreciation. As McMurtry in Walter Benjamin remembers having done, I read myself out of that culture growing up, only to read myself back in years later. I chose high school English projects on the Beats and Aldous Huxley, but didn’t read Porter or McMurtry until I was 25. Other than the few weeks I spent each summer growing up at a horse camp outside of Fort Davis, I’d never lived on a ranch before Paisano, though I wrote about one in grad school. That short story, “House of Guns:’ is set on a ranch outside Fayetteville, to which an architecture student returns from the Northeast at Christmas only to find his family in chaos. It’s certainly not a western, but there are horses and feed stores, even an old cemetery. I remember the writing of “House of Guns” feeling something like a literary homecoming for me. “House of Guns” is exactly the sort of writing that sticks in the craw of folks like McMurtry \(ironically enough, if you think Texas writers resorting to the ranch. “Why are there still cows to be milked and chickens to be fed in every Texas book that comes along?” he wrote. \(This was not the first time I’d ended up on the other end of an implied critique from McMurtry. When I was an undergrad at Rice University a decade ago, the English department invited him to speak, but I don’t remember the writer-collector mentioning one book, preferring instead to subject us to a stinging, long-winded tirade about how young people today But McMurtry was not wrong about Texas; it has changed. And what are writers for if not to document and reflect upon change? Or as Dallas native David Berman, frontman for the band Silver Jews, sings: “How’d you turn a billion steers into buildings made of mirrors?” Many Texas writersincluding Harrigan, Pat LittleDog, Laura Furman, Sarah Bird, Donald Barthelme, Oscar Casares and Bret Anthony Johnston have directly and indirectly explored this very issue over the years, as demonstrated in part by the POETRY I GENINE LENTINE READER this is my blood, leaping. This is my skin, stretched again over muscle and bright bone. Open, sweet, quick mouth, can you feel what it is to be entered? All night you murmur my name have you heard me whisper yours? Was that my breath this morning warming your lips? Every vein in my body flows into you and I am gone, always gone when you find me. My hips arch across time, lift toward the touch of your tongue. Come with me onto the wide open plain; I know what it is to be secret and alone and this is not that moment. Genine Lentine’s poems, essays, stories and interviews have appeared in American Poetry Review; American Speech; Diagram; Gulf Coast; 0, The Oprah Magazine and Tricycle, among others. She lives in San Francisco. JULY 10, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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