Twice a day without fail, at dawn and in late afternoon, Nestus Gurley delivers the newspapers. The boy is a given in the narrator's life, inevitable, an almost mythic presence. While in the real world Nestus is simply an energetic lad ("He has four routes and makes a hundred dollars"), in the world of the narrator's imagination, "He delivers to me the Morning Star, the Evening Star."

One morning the boy makes a paper hat that reminds the narrator "of our days and institutions, weaving / Baskets, being bathed, receiving / Electric shocks . . . " Throughout the poem the boy's steps tap an incomplete musical motif, a motif that needs only another note or two to become a tune. But what is the tune? And why is the tune so important? Even when in his grave on the morning of Judgment Day the narrator will recognize that step and say, "'It is Nestus Gurley.'" [81 lines]


The title is suggestive of the "character poems" of Edgar Lee Masters in Spoon River Anthology or Edwin Arlington Robinson in Tilbury Town; for example, Miniver Cheevy and Richard Cory (see entries in this database). However, Randall's poem reveals little about the life narrative of the title character. In fact, the reader never gets a glimpse of Nestus, although, if the poem had an audio tract, the reader would undoubtedly be able to hear his footsteps throughout.

"Nestus Gurley" actually presents a character sketch of the first person narrator, who may represent the poet himself. The man is subject to emotional breakdowns. He has even experienced the indignities of being in a mental hospital. Yet, he tries to keep his life moving forward on an even keel, and he associates the dependable tattoo of the paperboy's footsteps with the predictability of nature and with a sense that all is well with the world.

Primary Source

The Woman at the Washington Zoo



Place Published

New York