During the Sowell Collection Conference held in April 2013, our book signing events brought us all some unexpected joy and gratitude. When Robert Michael Pyle prepared to come to Lubbock as a featured speaker for the Conference, he packed his suitcase with copies of his chapbook, Letting the Flies Out, and each evening he presented them, with thoughtful and kind inscriptions, to other conference participants, including a host of TTU undergraduates. In addition to sharing his chapbook with us, Pyle also presented a talk with slides on his Mariposa Road year, played the harmonica to accompany David Taylor’s talk on and singing of the Texas River Song, sat attentively listening to the other presentations. He joked and laughed and talked to everyone.
When I read this book, perhaps more than any other he has written, it’s like having him right in the room again.
Letting the Flies Out includes two short stories, two essays and fifteen poems. One story, “Runaway Truck Ramp,” was runner-up for the High Desert Journal‘s Obsidian Prize in Fiction in 2011. Gretel Ehrlich served as judge. In it, Jude Murray, a woman who drives big trucks for a living, has had a long fascination with the sandy upgrades of runaway truck ramps that appear with regularity on the West’s dangerously steep mountain roads. The runaway ramps embody, she says, “that irreversible choice–you can’t take it back.”
As for the poems, this one I think just might be my favorite:
Too ripe! Leaking in the bottom
of the fridge. Take it out, put it
on a stump. Cleave it four ways
with a very serious knife. Cut
out the center. Eat it in cubes,
four days and nights. Delicious!
Put the rest out in the sun.
Someone will eat it: the calliope
humming bird, butterflies, beetles.
Or bees. One morning, all gone.
And to think I was just going to toss it!
Many of the pieces were written during Pyle’s Werner Writing Residency at Fishtrap in Billy Meadows, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the northeast corner of Oregon. His descriptions of the animals he encountered and observed are carefully unsentimental, while showing the naturalist’s appreciation for each species and its connection to all others in the meadow. For example, these stanzas from “The Elk Come to Billy Meadows”:
We listen for an hour or more, afraid to wreck
the peaceable kingdom of bugle, huff, and chew.
Small owl slides by, back and forth, as I make out
antlers, dark mantles, all those big white butts.
Cold and sleepy, we take to the cabin. Wapiti pay
no mind at all. Early morning, rise and go. I walk
down to see what all that grinding’s wrought: pellets
everywhere, blue butterflies coming to sip.
Letting the Flies Out, by Robert Michael Pyle. Enterprise, OR: Fishtrap Inc., 2011 (first printing), Gray’s River, WA: The New Riverside Press, 2012 (second printing).
Photo of residence at the Billy Meadows guard station by Ian Poellet from Wikimedia Commons.
“The Watermelon” used with the author’s permission.