Nowhere to Nowhere by BJ Omanson explores how someone can lose all meaning to their life, and begin spiralling out of control. The man in question within the poem loses his family, which provokes him to destroy all memories associated with them, and then leave town on a directionless journey
Nowhere to Nowhere by BJ Omanson begins with a man losing his family, ‘they’ decide to leave down, taking their child with them. Now alone on his farm, the man burns all their remaining possessions, anything that will remind him of the family that left him behind. He takes a freight train out of the city, thinking about his life as he boards the train to nowhere. The poem is depressing, focusing on the lack of direction in this man’s life. It explores the loss of everything someone holds dear, and the out of control spiral their life becomes afterwards.
You can read the full poem Nowhere to Nowhere here.
The poem is split into four stanzas of an equal four lines, a quatrain form. There is an ABBA rhyme scheme throughout, the casual rhyme perhaps suggesting that this is a more common occurrence than people think. The regularity of the structure is oddly off-putting when considering the total destruction and loss the man is experiencing. By contrasting the consistent rhyme scheme with the lack of direction in the man’s life, this becomes emphasised, Omanson focusing on the man’s self-destruction.
Analysis of Nowhere to Nowhere
When they sold off the farm she took the child
he opened a pint of bourbon, piled
The poem begins by focusing on pronouns, the rest of the man’s family are reduced to a ‘they’. It seems that an us and them construct has been made, with Omanson suggesting that the whole family is against the man. The mother of ‘the child’ takes the child, leaving with the rest of the family and leaving the man alone.
The enjambment from the first to the second line compound the sense of speed with which the family leaves him. There is no hesitation, they simply leave and do not look back, the use of form here reflecting their hasty decision.
The shock of this event is emphasised by the mid-sentence caesura in the form of a hyphen, ‘bus out of town—‘. There is a great deal of disbelief from the man, he cannot understand why they have left him, the metrical break reflecting a pause in the man’s life. It could also be understood as a representation of a before and after a moment in the man’s life, the before in which he had a family, and the after in which he is totally alone. The desolate landscape of a ‘farm’ could normally be a source of beautiful natural imagery. Yet, Omanson avoids all mention of the beauty of nature, focusing only on the barren wasteland of Nowhere to Nowhere.
Although we don’t know the exact reasons why the family left him, when he turns directly to ‘a pint of bourbon’ after they leave, we can deduce that he is an alcoholic. ‘A pint’ of spirit is a ridiculous amount, and this instant turn towards alcohol suggests the man has been using this as a coping mechanism or crutch for quite some time.
The alliteration that carries across ‘everyone gone and everything grim’, the assonance of ‘e’ and the consonance of ‘g’ is incredibly tragic within this moment. It is almost as if life is continuing, the speed of the meter on this line, propelled by the forms of alliteration, representing how life is continuing while he stands in a shocked silence.
pictures, letters and clothes in the yard,
and worked on his whiskey, working hard.
This stanza focuses on the man trying to destroy all the things that will remind him of his family. He gathers, ‘pictures, letters and clothes’, placing them all ‘in the yard’. It seems he ransacks the house, finding anything and everything that belonged to his family. He clearly does not want to remember them, feeling angry and bitter that they left him. He decides to burn all their belongings.
He ‘doused them in kerosene’, a flammable liquid. He then methodically ‘struck a match’, and ‘watched as they burnt to ashes’. The length this must have taken, burning all the way to ‘ashes’ shows the man standing silently, sadly watching the fire for a great amount of time. It seems he doesn’t have anything left to do, spending his time drinking and watching the fire burn the memories of his family.
The alliteration of ‘watched’, ‘watched and worked on his whisky, working hard’, compound a sense of frustration. The man has nothing to do, so he drinks, just ‘working’ on finishing the alcohol. He seemingly has nothing left to live for, with the only thing (again) that he thinks of doing being drinking. This shown his tendency towards alcoholism, it is his support system now he has been abandoned by his family.
The next morning he caught an outbound freight
down to a rusty tin cup and a plate,
In comparison, the ‘bus’ the family use to escape town seems glamorous compared to the barren, industrial ‘freight’ that he takes to leave town. The nondescript ‘god-knows-where’ direction it is heading reflects the man’s current situation, he has nothing to live for, nowhere to go, and therefore just takes the first opportunity he sees.
The double use of a hyphen following the second and third lines of the third stanza reflects the lack of interest. There are long gaps in the narrative, the meter slowing as he sits in silence, watching the day goes by as the train continues to ‘nowhere’.
He has lost everything, ‘down to a rusty tin cup and a plate’, the ‘rust’ focus furthering the sense of decay. Even the few things he does still have within him are rusting away, they too are leaving him slowly as they become less and less useable.
dice and a bible, a bedroll and fate,
running nowhere to nowhere and running late.
Even the country he is passing through seems decrepit, ‘dying and desperate for rain’. There is no comfort left in his life, he lost his family, his belongings, has left his home, and is now in a wasteland of death and barren nature. The poem is deeply depressing, Nowhere to Nowhere echoing the total disarray of his life.
The final line of the poem compounds this sense of defeat, he is ‘running’ without direction, ‘nowhere to nowhere’. Even at this, he is not achieving, ‘running late’ for his own life – a person reduced to nothing but loss.