“Roadkill Octet” is a creative nonfiction narrative utilizing the octet form to tell the story of life and death. It’s told from the point of view of an eco-feminist, in eight stanzas of eight lines each about eight different road kills. I wanted this piece to work on both an elemental level as well as a structural and creative level to show the ways our experiences are the same even though they might seem quite different.
That sounds really impressive, doesn’t it? It didn’t start out that way.
I wrote a poem called “Roadkill” after a long research trip throughout the Southwest. Because we spent seven-to-nine hours every day on the road, my photographer and I joked about the difference between seeing a skunk on a New England road compared to a full-grown mustang in New Mexico. On a long stretch of desert road, you can see the slightest bump for quite a long time before you pass it. Plenty of time to consider the dead.
The poem sat in my unpublished pile for a few years. During that time, I wrote novels and essays, and my poetry took a back seat. When I was sorting out current prospects for rewriting, several pieces surfaced, and a link begin to form between them. At least half a dozen of those pieces circled back to the theme started in “Roadkill.” It took another couple of months to see that the narrative was driven by eco-feminism, then the octet shaped itself because the number eight is the second magic number in physics, as well as an even number. Putting the narrative into a two-part voice, one poetic and the other creative nonfiction, built yet another level to the writing.
After the piece was at a point where I considered it complete, I read back through it and was struck by the relationships that wove through the narrative. I had not realized they were actually the backbone of the narrative. Sometimes you find out more during the rewriting process than simply how to play with structure.