David Bottoms – In a U-Haul North of Damascus

David Botton’s poem In a U-Haul North of Damascus is a modern story of sin, divorce and redemption. I ran across this poem in Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio’s book The Poet’s Companion. My immediate reaction was on a visceral level, but on repeated readings it opened up to me with a strong set of images, nice enjambment and I love the way it poses unanswered questions.

In a U-Haul North of Damascus

Lord, what are the sins
I have tried to leave behind me? The bad checks,
the workless days, the scotch bottles thrown across the fence
and into the woods, the cruelty of silence,
the cruelty of lies, the jealousy,
the indifference?

What are these on the scale of sin
or failure
that they should follow me through the streets of Columbus,
the moon-streaked fields between Benevolence
and Cuthbert where dwarfed cotton sparkles like pearls
on the shoulders of the road. What are these
that they should find me half-lost,
sick and sleepless
behind the wheel of this U-Haul truck parked in a field on Georgia
a few miles north of Damascus,
some makeshift rest stop for eighteen wheelers
where the long white arms of oak slap across trailers
and headlights glare all night through a wall of pines?

What was I thinking Lord?
That for once I’d be in the driver’s seat, a firm grip
on direction?

So the jon boat muscled up the ramp,
the Johnson outboard, the bent frame of the wrecked Harley
chained for so long to the back fence,
the scarred desk, the bookcases and books,
the mattress and box springs,
a broken turntable, a Pioneer amp, a pair
of three-way speakers, everything mine
I intended to keep. Everything else abandon.

But on the road from one state
to another, what is left behind nags back through the distance,
a last word rising to a scream, a salad bowl
shattering against a kitchen cabinet, china barbs
spiking my heel, blood trailed across the cream linoleum
like the bedsheet that morning long ago
just before I watched the future miscarried.

Jesus, could the irony be
that suffering forms a stronger bond than love?

Now the sun
streaks the windshield with yellow and orange, heavy beads
of light drawing highways in the dew-cover.
I roll down the window and breathe the pine-air,
the after-scent of rain, and the far-off smell
of asphalt and diesel fumes.

But mostly pine and rain
as though the world really could be clean again.

Somewhere behind me,
miles behind me on a two-lane that streaks across
west Georgia, light is falling
through the windows of my half-empty house.
Lord, why am I thinking about all this? And why should I care
so long after everything has fallen
to pain that the woman sleeping there should be sleeping alone?
Could I be just another sinner who needs to be blinded
before he can see? Lord, is it possible to fall
toward grace? Could I be moved
to believe in new beginnings? Could I be moved?

David Bottoms

Bottoms was born in 1949 in Canton, GA., and his first book Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, was chosen as winner of the 1979 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. He has published 7 more books of poetry and two novels, as well as edited The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets (1985). His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Levinson Prize, an Ingram-Merrill Award, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Bottoms is currently the Poet Laureate of Georgia and holds the Amos Distinguished Chair in English Letters at Georgia State University.

His poetry book are:

Waltzing Through the Endtime, (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
Oglethorpe’s Dream
Vagrant Grace, (Copper Canyon Press, 1999)
Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)
Under the Vulture-Tree (1987)
In a U-Haul North of Damascus (1983)
Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump (1980)
Jamming with the Band at the VFW


10 Responses to “David Bottoms – In a U-Haul North of Damascus”

  1. “…could the irony be
    that suffering forms a stronger bond than love?” Great line from a great poem. TY

  2. PJ DeGenaro aka Chorophyll Says:

    I love David Bottoms. Gawd!

    By the way, my friend Laura — an EXTREMELY liberal Presbyterian pastor — says “you can’t fall from grace; you can only fall into it.”

    For what it’s worth. 🙂

  3. Alison (blueraven95) Says:


  4. Will you post your poem that is due to be published ? Any new stuff from this summer?

  5. This is really disturbing. It is like listening in on a private argument. It’s too animated and real to be raw, and yet too wounded and painful to be anything except raw. I come away wondering how much of the author is really in this poem, and feeling sorry for him. But I also feel sorry for anyone who had to be there with him while this formed and developed. Anyone along for that kind of a ride probably didn’t deserve it.

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