Poems of Place
The House that was Abandoned
The widow died, then the house began to die.
Her children, six of them, did nothing.
Cut flowers dried in their vase. Dresses hung limp
On hangers. Water in her bedside glass evaporated
Leaving a stain of lime. The clock had stopped.
The framework, in need of repair before her death,
Sagged. The porch collapsed. The red brick
Chimney fell in upon itself. The screen door
Hung askew. The clapboards peeled. The ring
Of bales, set to save the pipes from frost, rotted—
All the not-so-subtle signs of a neglected country home,
All too common. The house looked empty and so
Was vandalized. Outside, lilacs and peonies went native.
Fences went slack. Multiflora rose and crabgrass won.
Mail overfilled her box until the carrier sealed it
With a label: "mail undeliverable to this address.”
For a time mice treated themselves to whatever bits
They could find on shelves, in the pantry, from
The crumbs of her last meal, but soon gave up,
Moving back to pasture, field, and meadow.
Even the scores of mud-daubers' nests, built
On her peeling, flower-papered walls, were empty.
It was barren, it was nothing—a house, but not a home.
I watched its decline, and do so still, for it
Will not lay down. There seemed so little dignity left to her—
Snow upon her bed—I took it upon myself to uproot
The listing mailbox. The place, now so long abandoned,
Has reached an ugly stasis, becoming, in my life,
An unneighborly insinuation of gloom. It is hard
Not to see shadows, and I think of flames.
The Suicide Wind of South Dakota
The old man sits outside the gas station, killing time,
Waiting for people like me to stop, to begin a conversation.
We talk about the wind which is blowing straight and hard.
“It drives men crazy, ” he tells me, “drives them to suicide.”
I drive west. This land is arid, it is worn and rough and raw.
The wind is unchecked, it has an edge, it is relentless.
The stark words of the old man begin their work on me.
The white painted farm houses and out-buildings I pass
Are scattered and appear thin-walled; each farm an outpost
Lost in proportion to the vastness that lies between.
This is lonely country, it invites thoughts of lives so fragile
That wind might bring them down. I doubt the truth of it.
There is more to it, there always is. This is not easy land,
I can see that. A vast sky meets a vast horizon, leaving
A thin line to eke out an existence. The trials of such land
Seem obvious. Time and distance must be measured
By a different standard. Lives may be in torment, interior
Dramas played out. But to blame the wind, it is too grand.
These are farmers and ranchers. These are women that
Work in courthouses, that birth and bake, that balance
The books. These are children that ride yellow buses,
That sneak cigarettes, that watch their teams play football
Come Friday night and vie for State. The old man is wrong.
If there is madness here, there is madness everywhere.
One old man’s words are suspect. He has a grudge.
His crops failed. His wife left him. Life passed him by
While he pumped gas. I hear a shot. I slow and see a man
Beside his barn fall to the ground, a shotgun fallen
From his hands, the back of his head gone, a patch
Of red splattered against faded, whitewashed boards.
Lives may be in torment and the hardships real—
To blame the wind, no. Perhaps the wind is an excuse
Invented to avoid saying that which is better left unsaid,
An explanation which rolls off the tongue and sets easy.
I see only white painted farm houses and out-buildings.
I am a young man driving west. I doubt the truth of it.
The Economics of Farming
Imagine a vast, bleak hillside which you see
While driving north along interstate fifty-five.
Place the hillside to the west, in central Illinois,
To keep your vision near to mine, north of Sangamon,
Where hills are rare and out of character.
The time is early spring, the hillside stubbly
With remnants of last fall's corn crop, each row
Perpendicular to the highway; each row,
As you drive by, flashes a perfect line pointing
To the crest of the hill, ready for plow and seed.
A farmer's field, and he has not left a single tree.
All there is to see, nearly, are rows of dirt and sky.
But at the rise, some way off, a square of green.
It is passing quickly, but you see that it is a grove,
In fact, a cemetery: evergreens and deciduous trees
Left for shade, and ragged rows of markers,
And that the farmer has plowed as near as he dared,
Up to and along each side, and then again beyond,
Utilizing every tillable inch, leaving the dead what,
By custom, has been allowed to them, and nothing more.
Tucumcari on a cold clear day is beautiful
Tucumcari on a cold clear day is beautiful,
Especially the strip-road between I-40 and downtown,
A gallery of unfiltered color seen in elemental bits:
The white painted cinder blocks of the S n-Air Apts,
The glinting beer bottles, broken, and strewing the lot
Across from the Allsup's, the vistas caught between
The tumble-down houses and trailers, the houses themselves.
It is soft and gentle, a sterile collage, each piece of the picture
A determined effort, a remembrance of want or need;
No regret, no attempt to conceal past mistakes, moving on.
The cars exiting the highway, using local services,
Spending a few minutes, a few dollars, add to the scheme,
Not only more flash, but movement—the pinyon pines
And buff grass offering no evidence of wind.
Each tossed wrapper and cup, each barren yard,
Each tasteless fast-food joint separated by a fine air,
Free of corrosives; each an icon, to remain as it is,
Preserved by this amazing New Mexican winter.
There is simply a wealth of raw material at hand to admire;
Every frame a splendid composition of hue and form,
Taken as a whole—a gift of vividness on the eastern slope.
Poetry by jim
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Written on 2019-01-27 at 16:29
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