The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

“Cherrylog Road” is a narrative poem, a memory recounted in the first person. The title identifies the setting of the event that the speaker recalls: Cherrylog Road is the location of a junkyard in which the speaker meets his teenage lover for secret assignations. As the title suggests, the poem pays a lot of attention to setting, even identifying Cherrylog Road, in the first and last stanzas, as a roadway branching off of Highway 106. In spite of this specificity, the poet identifies the location only as an unnamed “southern-state.” Details reveal that the setting is the rural South—bootlegging country—and that the time of year is summer.

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The speaker arrives at the junkyard first for a prearranged meeting with his lover, Doris Holbrook. Little information is offered about Doris except that she lives nearby and must meet the speaker on the sly for fear of retribution from her father. While waiting for Doris, the speaker explores the junkyard, moving from wrecked car to wrecked car and fantasizing about their owners or picturing himself as a race car driver. As his anticipation mounts, his imagination turns to Doris, and he speculates about the unpleasant consequences of being caught by her father. By the middle of the poem, the speaker hears the sound of Doris approaching, tapping the wrecked cars with her wrench (she must return with used car parts to explain her absence from home). However, it is not until the fifteenth of eighteen stanzas that the two lovers are united. Three stanzas describe their lovemaking in passionate and metaphorical terms, and then the final stanza chronicles the speaker’s elated departure—from Cherrylog Road to Highway 106—on his motorcycle.

The core of the poem is description, and the junkyard setting occupies most of the poet’s attention. The description enumerates automobiles and their parts, detailing the fragmented condition of the cars. The rural setting emerges through the natural denizens of the junkyard: snakes, toads, mice, and roaches. However, the poem also seeks to describe youthful passion, and much of its interest lies in how the poet uses the junkyard to evoke the speaker’s anticipation and recklessness. The poem mixes realistic description with fantasies played out in the speaker’s mind. Thus, “Cherrylog Road” evokes a vividly remembered scene and explores the emotions of the speaker, who recalls the scene in detail. The poet blends those two levels of presentation—description and psychological analysis—seamlessly.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591

“Cherrylog Road” is an easy poem to read, and its accessibility results from James Dickey’s use of straightforward diction, conventional syntax, and grammatical sentences. Yet the poem’s 108 lines make up only nine sentences, which are spread over eighteen six-line stanzas. Though the stanza structure is regular, the verse is unrhymed and the line length varies from four to ten syllables. Six-and seven-syllable lines with three stresses are the most common, but the metrical variation approaches free verse.

The most notable poetic devices appear in the use of figurative language, which reinforces the poem’s emphasis on connecting descriptive detail to the speaker’s state of mind. Some of the figurative language seems natural to the junkyard setting, as when the poet uses a simile to compare the speaker’s posture in a wrecked car to a driver “in a wild stock-car race” or when a metaphor presents the junked vehicles as “stalled, dreaming traffic.” The automobile imagery becomes more blatantly symbolic, however, when the junkyard is called “the parking lot of the dead” or when the sun is personified as “eating the paint in blisters/ From a hundred car tops and hoods.” Other examples of figurative language hint at how the speaker’s erotic anticipation colors his description. The sun-warmed interiors of the cars are described as possessing “body heat,” the center of the junkyard is its “weedy heart,” and the torn upholstery of a luxury car is “tender.” When the speaker spins a fantasy about being a wealthy old woman directing her chauffeur to an orphanage where she will dispense toys, the car’s brand name (“Pierce-Arrow”) combines with the metaphor for the reflected sun (“platters of blindness”) to suggest the avatars of love, a blind god served by an arrow-wielding cherub.

The weedy and littered garden of the junkyard has a teeming animal life, and Dickey identifies snakes three times: a “kingsnake” in stanza 6 and a “blacksnake” in stanzas 14 and 15. Given the gardenlike setting and the sexually charged occasion, the associations of the snake with Original Sin and with phallic imagery seem deliberate. Indeed, the developing symbolism of the description helps the reader understand how Dickey describes the passionate encounter. Doris’s appearance is heralded by a simile comparing her noise to the scraping of a mouse. Along with the phallic connotations of the snake, this association explains the natural description inserted into the midst of the lovers’ embrace in stanzas 15 and 16: “So the blacksnake, stiff/ With inaction, curved back/ Into life, and hunted the mouse/ With deadly overexcitement.” The curious phrase “deadly overexcitement” brings together the traditional hunt or chase imagery of courtship with the story of Original Sin, in which a snake and a sexual fall bring death into the world.

At the heart of the poem, the lovers come together in language that suggests union and imprisonment: “clung,” “glued,” “hooks,” “springs,” and “catch.” Given the dangerous nature of their tryst, they part quickly, and the poet describes them leaving “by separate doors,” passing through “the changed, other bodies/ Of cars,” just as the union of their bodies has changed them. The narrator’s youthful exuberance is visited upon the inanimate body of his motorcycle, which is compared by simile to “the soul of the junkyard/ Restored” and through metaphor to “a bicycle fleshed/ With power.” The reader knows that it is the speaker, not his motorcycle, who feels restored and powerful, but the transference of animate qualities to the mechanical vehicles of the junkyard is consistent with the imagery and methods of the poem.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 153

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Judith S. Baughman, eds. Crux: The Letters of James Dickey. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Calhoun, Richard J., ed. James Dickey: The Expansive Imagination. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1973.

Calhoun, Richard J., and Robert W. Hill. James Dickey. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

Dickey, James. Classes on Modern Poets and the Art of Poetry. Edited by Donald J. Greiner. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Dickey, James, Barbara Reiss, and James Reiss. Self-Interviews. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970.

Heyen, William. “A Conversation with James Dickey.” Southern Review 9 (1973): 135-156.

Kirschten, Robert. James Dickey and the Gentle Ecstasy of Earth. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

Kirschten, Robert, ed. Critical Essays on James Dickey. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994.

Lieberman, Laurence. The Achievement of James Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems with a Critical Introduction. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1968.

Van Ness, Gordon. Outbelieving Existence: The Measured Motion of James Dickey. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1992.

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