For Want

Contributor’s Marginalia: Amy Beeder on “The Shepherd’s Song” by Jordan Windholz

Weeks after I asked George David Clark if I could respond to “The Shepherd’s Song,” I am still unable to really explicate it, which I’m sure will be good news for Jordan Windholz. I can say that I am still astonished by its power and economy: a four-line poem that uses a total of only twenty-two separate words.

The song reminds us, of course, of the nursery rhyme “for want of a nail, the shoe was lost” but instead of then offering a chain of causality, the poem abruptly drops the “I” and becomes what might be a brief meditation on transience and desire.

Where does the strange weight in “Song” come from? It sounds like a canticle, anaphoric and archaic; it recalls an old testament sacrifice, with the shepherd and the clipped, pitiless verbs: slay, cleave and spill.

I can’t say if the slaying is necessary or gratuitous (for warmth or white?) but the “trough” in the last line implies something that can never stay filled. We are insatiable, then: “for want…/for want…/for want…”

Amy Beeder

Amy Beeder is the author of Burn the Field (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006) and Now Make An Altar (2012). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Nation, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, AGNI, and many other journals. She lives in Albuquerque and has taught poetry at the University of New Mexico and Taos Summer Writers Conference. A recipient of the “Discovery”/The Nation Award, a Louis Untermeyer Bread Loaf Scholarship, the Witness Emerging Writers Award, and a James Merrill Fellowship, she has worked as a freelance reporter, a political asylum specialist, a high-school teacher in West Africa, and an election and human rights observer in Haiti and Suriname.