The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Lorna Dee Cervantes’ “Flatirons” is an evocative rendering of the mountain range situated to the southwest of Boulder, Colorado. It is dedicated to “the Ute and Arapaho,” tribal communities who lived in this region for centuries, and the images that Cervantes assembles in a series of surrealistic vignettes convey aspects of the communal life that has vanished as a result of the advance of the European social order. In the opening lines, Cervantes depicts the mountains as “ghosts/ of slaughtered mules,” establishing the ethos of loss that is one of the dominant modes of the poem, and then personalizes the image by declaring that “the whites of my/ ancestors rest on the glaciers,” extending the concept of a haunted landscape. She develops the image further as she envisions the remains of a prior culture “veiled/ and haloed with the desire of electrical/ storms,” a surreal portrayal that joins the terrain to the psychological inclinations of its inhabitants.

As the poem proceeds, Cervantes moves toward the present, noting how the vivid features of the geologic strata (“a chimney of shedding sundown”) attract visitors to the region. A kind of dual perspective emerges as the ancestral connections Cervantes evokes are, in a sense, assaulted by more recent arrivals. Calling herself—and by implication, her cultural heritage—“Statuesque/ and exquisitely barren,” she asserts that her “seed shines/ in the dying rays” but that...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Flatirons” is a tightly constructed poem that unfolds with the unrelenting intensity of a dream-vison, its language designed to maintain the kinetic force of a high-energy field. The appearance of the Flatiron range is developed in a series of surreal images that retain a degree of ambiguity that prevents an easy understanding of the power latent in each provocative description. From the start, when Cervantes declares that “The mountains are there like ghosts/ of slaughtered mules,” the unusual comparison of the physical presence of the landscape to an ephemeral entity, which is likened to the destroyed carcass of a mundane beast of burden, eludes any kind of simple metaphorical equivalent. Cervantes is interested in unhinging the kind of asssured response to familiar imagery that makes some successful poems comfortable to read, and her continuing employment of radically disconcerting descriptions reflects her own uneasiness with the recent history of the locality.

The concept of the landscape itself as a kind of sentient creature is conveyed by the detailed image of her ancestor’s spirit, called “white” (to suggest both its ghostly nature and a literal deposit of bleached bones) as a parallel to the glacial remnants, portrayed as “veiled and haloed” to deepen its etherial and angelic aspects and given an emotional component in its manifestation of “the desire of electrical storms.” The ambiguity inherent in ascribing desire to a...

(The entire section is 472 words.)