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By Trenton Hickman

I ) Consider in one thousand words or less
the way that life on the frontier
changed the way you scan the horizon

on breezeless mornings,
how it has made you sure
that sharp riders will someday angle

across the hills like shadows, arc over the back fences
with the grace of deer, root you to the ground
with the dark headlights of their eyes.

2) Consider how the Flatirons
ripple and break across Colorado’s
eastern expanse, how the floss

of clouds spins across the sky,
casual as a god, reminds you
we are earthbound as serpents but still

unwilling to bow ourselves to the winds.
Taking into consideration such reticence,
why will a man on the edge of a forest refuse

to follow the light through the sky
like the most faithful sunflower?
Ignorance, or arrogance? Both? 3) Explain

a) the relevance of Questions 1 and 2
to the rabbit you loved and lowered,
rag- wrapped, into a hole

cut from your childhood yard,
b) how you stared into her dumb eyes
and remembered the neighbor

that accidentally hung humself
(the yearbook – he took black and white
photos for the senior yearbook)

and c) why said victim
would become a hero
in sprinkler-splashed subdivisions

where no one will admit to themselves
that they cling to the Wild West,
to its terrible, dusty cowboys.

4) Justify your answers
to the previous three questions,
locating their social and aesthetic significance

in our modern death of history.
Justify the institutions that made you
offer up this meager reasoning as an answer

for their intellectual titillation.
Justify the names of the constellations,
of the animals, of the words that slip away

even as you slide them from your pen.
Justify the ways of God to men.
Justify yourself.

5 ) Convince yourself that there will be an end
to writing. Convince yourself
that you will ever be free,

that this tangle of letters
is actually a garden of insight
and not just a place for burying.



Professor Trenton Hickman graduated with a BA in Honors English in 1994 and with an MA in English, both from BYU, before completing his PhD in English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. ‘Essay Questions’ first appeared in Southwest Review, Volume 82, Number 3, 1997.