What is the West?

David Allan Cates

What’s The West? How about a swath of the North American continent that in the second half of the 19th century was cleared, mostly, of indigenous people and animal life by Europeans and Americans. And onto this vast, post-apocalyptic landscape—so visibly big and empty—wandered more Europeans and Americans, minds aflame with the hallucination of innocence and enough distance from ancestors to think they could invent who they were and what they might become. The land was given out for free to the new arrivals to build railroads on, to mine, to log, to plow—land they could stand on or drive across and ask themselves ad nauseam: Who am I? And how did I get here?  Good questions. But the incompressible bounty, the beauty, the history—the horror, the horror—still blow our minds and hearts past words. "The West" is about as good we can do.

David Allan Cates’ collection of poetry, The Mysterious Location of Kyrgyzstan, was published by Satellite Press in April 2016. He is the author of five novels, most recently Tom Connor's Gift, winner of the 2015 Independent Book Publishers Books Award for best fiction in the Rocky Mountain west region.  He is the executive director of Missoula Medical Aid, a non-profit that does health care and health improvement projects in Honduras, and is a part-time teacher in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.