Off Main Street

Michael Perry

Off Main Street.

Back by popular demand (all right, back because your writers like this author's way with words) is a work by Michael Perry. This one, titled Off Main Street, is a collection of essays on topics ranging (in no particular order) from book tours to country musicians to cow manure to receding hairlines to butchering hogs. Never let it be said that Mr. Perry isn't a versatile teller of tales!

Consider the following passage, taken from an essay titled 'Swelter':

“I was young when the streaking fad hit. Mid-grade school, maybe. Sinful, I thought. But I had a go at it. Dropping our clothes beside the sinkhole in the sheep pasture, a friend and I took off across the field, chasing his horse, Daisy. Daisy had been trained for the circus. You could vault to her back from behind. We never tried that with our clothes off. It seems ludicrous now, the image of two hairless children capering through the fat alfalfa, forty acres from the nearest road, with no one to see us but my younger brother. Even then more sensible than I, he sat at the edge of the sinkhole, nibbling a bird-legged stem of canary grass. He knew we weren't raised that way. And we weren't. So after a lap or two, my friend and I put on our jeans, adjusted our T-shirts to our tan lines, and ascended the lower limbs of popple trees, jackknives open, to mark the day in the bitter bark. I haven't disrobed in public since.”

By way of contrast, here is the opening paragraph from a Memorial Day essay called 'The Roots Remain':

“War is a morally repulsive business, and when the fog of battle clears, we are quick to consign the details to history and myth. But veterans are details who walk among us. I was reminded of this one green morning a few years ago, when I walked to my kitchen window only to be startled by a tottering rank of soldiers advancing on my peonies. There were eight of them, old men with rifles, one man bearing the Stars and Stripes on a flagpole cantilevered off his belt buckle. I gaped a moment, then recognized the troops as the local veterans color guard, rehearsing for an afternoon funeral. The back door of the Legion Hall and the back door of my house open toward each other, and the men of the post had turned the potholed alley between us into a parade ground.”

Later in the same essay, Perry writes:

“I am hip to the dangers of nationalism, jingoistic flag-waving, and the glorification of war. It is difficult to reconcile our ironic postmodern culture, larded with cynicism and a sense of entitlement, with these aging warriors....But I reckon I'm thankful that a rickety group of back-alley irregulars marched through my yard to remind me that history grows toward the past, but it is born in the present – a fact that implicates each of us in the shape of the future. The old soldiers fade away, taking their wars with them, leaving us to do what we will with the spoils.”

Perry's mixture of homespun prose, contemplation, and quirky brand of humor all combine to produce a surprisingly moving portrait of rural small-town life. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright 2008, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.