This short lyric, up recently at Painted Bride Quarterly, is notable for an unassuming approach that avails a very ready perspicacity.
I’ll admit, both the title and the opening line give pause: in the first case, the term ‘roadkill’ is cruel, bearing the shadow of a stupid knee-slap; the phrase ‘as deaths go’ is so exhausted that even Tarantino has claimed it. But Rolph has a rejoinder: the speaker’s prognosis of the death as ’rounded and quick’ is both tactile and in-the-world keen, and her choice to repeat ‘flattening’ shows real pathos, heart past prognosis. This balance is maintained by tender phrases like ‘the mercy of rain’ and the risky (but, again, true to tactile intelligence) ‘ironing’ or ‘melts.’
I found myself returning to the pathos of that ‘flattening, flattening’ matter several times. Part of what makes the term ‘roadkill’ cruel is its willingness to point at something mysterious like death (that animal, having experienced deathly moment, dead on the highway, is to be understood as ‘roadkill’) while, with perfect aplomb, refusing any complexity of singular being to the thing at which it points (cat, rat, moose, frog, raccoon, deer—all these animals become simple ‘roadkill’ by virtue of their place of death). In this way Rolph’s pathos rises not simply from a reiteration that feels tender, searching (how different the line would feel with a single ‘flattening’), but also from a powerful metaphor: as truck or car makes ‘careless swift ironing,’ so does one’s terminology—his method of naming—determine the flatness or depth of his reflection on any given thing.
So when Rolph’s speaker announces:
Only a threadbare tail, gray,
blows back and forth in the breeze
of the rushed living
our surety about whose ‘living’ is rushed cannot be neatly acquired.