A Thousand Miles of Stars

by Walt McDonald

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

McDonald is well known as a western regionalist. Many of his poems are set in the hardscrabble country of the American West, and his lines are often rich with the details of ranch life. Thus the rodeo and cattle range setting here is a familiar one. Yet McDonald is also a poet of everyday life, and works focusing on family relationships form another significant portion of his canon. In this poem, the two mental regions come together as the cowboy ages, allowing the development of two themes: loving relationships and the apparently rapid passing of time.

The love that the speaker feels for his grandchildren is central to the poem. They are the prizes that have replaced the rewards of the rodeo ring. He and his wife hold them to their chests and only reluctantly let them go. The smallest actions of the children become heroic in their telling: “the toddler” took a fall but climbed back to the porch “giggling.” They learned to rope surprisingly quickly. The teenagers made “long-distance callsto boys.”

However, the love for the grandchildren is not the only love shown. In stanza 3 the point of view suddenly shifts to the first person plural—the voice becomes the original speaker along with his wife. The implication is that the love that is felt for the grandchildren is a love the couple share together, that it becomes a strand of their love for each other. In essence, they become one, in stark contrast to the speaker’s earlier romances on the dance floor. This is highlighted with the emphatic “We rock and hold each other.”

The perceived speed with which life passes is also a part of the emotional complex of the poem. The memories of youth are vividly recalled, implying that they seem recent. Change feels sudden: With two rhetorical questions, roughly forty years pass. In the last image, even the windmill is said to be “spinning fast.” Finally, if the stars are metaphorically roaring, they are most likely roaring as they whirl through space. Time and change are the natural way of things.

It is worth noting that the speaker feels no shame for a youthful, romantic view of himself. Such feelings seem as natural to him (witness his granddaughters’ calls to boys) as the more mature excitements of old age. The narrator’s passion for his life is no less, and maybe no less romantic, than that of his earlier self. Now, however, his feelings are precipitated less by his imagination and more by the realities of an everyday existence.

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