The Donkey’s Jaw (Prologue.)
By BEN TINSLEY
I first started writing “The Donkey’s Jaw” in 1991 while at college at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. I didn’t finish and publish the poem until 2014.
It was originally intended to be a sequel to a villanelle I’d written about my father, “Daddy Searched For Holy Grail,” which I also started in college and also formally published in the 2010’s.
The “Donkey’s Jaw,” a fairly unstructured poem when compared to a highly-structured villanelle, was based on some thoughts about my Dad as a young man in East Texas — combined with several strange and unrelated dreams I’d had as a teenager.
In those dreams, a beautiful young woman strolled with me through a graveyard. One of the graves we walked over in the dream was mine.
Oddly, my son Jake, 20 as of this writing, also dreamed of this woman – or a woman similar to her.
I never told Jake about this poem or my dreams until after he informed me about his. He read “Donkey’s Jaw” and was astonished; he came to the conclusion we were speaking about the same woman.
I wrote “The Donkey’s Jaw” in 1991, but didn’t immediately publish it. (The Internet was in its infancy and I didn't feel like shopping it around to literary magazines as I had my other poems and short stories.)
Over the years I just kept working on it and working on it. And working on it.
Tweak. Tweak. Tweak. Years passed by.
After several years, I started to explore the content of “Donkey’s Jaw”as if I were a reader rather than the writer: What is the poem about, actually? My father? Me? My son? (You know, the son who didn’t exist when I first wrote the poem?)
Is “Donkey’s Jaw” a coming of age story? Is it about romance? Why did I mention “rage?”
Some friends who read it even speculated it might really be about a serial killer about to pounce on his first victim.
Again, once my muse had departed, once this poem was written and out of my system, I became as much of a spectator about it as any of you.
Sometimes you think you’re addressing and discussing one particular thing with a poem or song lyrics — but you later realize you had no real idea what you were writing about. It’s like you tapped into something from somewhere else and dragged it back with you into this world.
So, ultimately, I guess what this poem is about is up to the reader.
Thank you for reading these thoughts.
And I hope you enjoy “The Donkey’s Jaw!”
Feb. 24. 2015