“Spiritual” and “A Prayer” tread new ground in the book’s final pages, and these lines feel both appropriate to the book as a whole and the particular, engaging aesthetic cultivated throughout: “But even in this joy I know enough / of pain and shame to say that’s all wrong: No one / deserves this world.”
Violence–even sometimes brutality–may be an integral part of the world Wilkins creates, but there is room for tenderness, too. In “A Prayer,” an expansive, Whitman-esque poem that closes the collection, the poet turns his unflinching eye on the people who populate his poems, men who “water the sodden garden of themselves / with liquor” and women “nailing / themselves to the rough-cut boards of their husbands.” While these portraits are not necessarily flattering, there is an undertone of admiration in every line: he celebrates these people because of what they’re willing to endure in the hostile Western environment, and the poem is all the more moving because he seemingly counts himself among the people he describes. “A Prayer,” like the other poems in Killing the Murnion Dogs, is ultimately a kind of love poem, albeit a complex and sometimes disturbing one.
At his best, Wilkins recalls the rural flavor of Wendell Berry, but in a world all his own. Read him. This is your life; wrap your cracked hands around this book.
“Raw delicacy” also describes Joe Wilkins’s intensely realized short story about a homeless woman in Montana who decides she’ll move beyond the self she had become. “Enough of Me” won High Desert Journal’s Obsidian Prize in Fiction, judged by Gretel Ehrlich.
Orion has just posted my review of Robert Wrigley’s stunning Beautiful Country.