Monday, January 20, 2020

Badlands





Badlands


I went to sleep
in the cotton rows
child's hands raw,
belly empty as
my mother's brown eyes
 that hot day she left me
alone by the river mud's soft folded stink.

I cracked my lids
in the hard nitre'd bed where
time cries out loud in the torture of change,
where rain becomes air
on dry roserock hills, deep in the gulch
where the snake promised water
and had nothing but dust

visions without sight,
day without night. I was small as
the sand when I rose up again
on the last thermal's wings,
on the story of gulls, on the wild windy
ballad the dark singer sang
to the tide in my bones.




January 2020















Process note: I've tried to present here the transition from the presence of water, to its absence. The bottom photo is of natural geologic erosion in the Borrego Badlands of California, and the top, work in the cotton fields possibly in Oklahoma(?) around the turn of the century.* This poem tries to bridge the gap between, for what are fields now may in the future become the desert landscape, moonlike and barren, that the climate has made of the badlands, which extend over much of the western part of the US, from New Mexico to California.








Header Image, *Picking cotton, author, location and date unknown, from an Oklahoma heritage FB site, public domain (the people on this site discussed their memories of grandparents or parents hand-working the cotton fields in Oklahoma as children. Oklahoma still grows cotton and was the fourth largest producer in the US, according to this 2017 report. )
Footer Image: Borrego Badlands, California USA, author unknown, Fair Use.

16 comments:

  1. Damn, girl, this is what you do so well. You write poetry that has cadence and choices of phrasing that grab me like a strong current, and just when I think I will coast through to shore, you open up the sluice gates (what I mean is, your ending here) and I'm thrown over the edge and into free fall. Honestly, "the tide in my bones"? Get out. That's so good I felt it in mine.

    This poem is filled with such empty abandonment and dissolved promise that it's as bleak as a blackbird on a burned branch. I feel like something has passed close by, something essential, that instead of coming on home to the speaker in the poem, it passes by and passes on without so much as a howdy do. It's harrowing and really really well wrought, Joy.

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    1. Thank you, Shay. I'm very humble to know you thought this much of my poem. You read it perfectly, too.

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  2. I love your poem and Shay's comment equally. I can feel that small girl's sore hands, the oppressive heat and dust.......a wonderful poem, that SOARS in its closing lines.

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    1. Thank you Sherry. As I age, I seem to feel everything in my bones.

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  3. Just wow. Timeless, beautiful, sorrowful, striking. I'm struck dumb.

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  4. The progress from water to desert, and the little girl growing old faster than what's meant is so great. I thought of dust-bowl and grapes of wrath when I read your poem as well.

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  5. Absence of water is as cathedral a story as its presence, and there's nothing like an unquenched soul to bury us in dust. The promised land turned out to be a different trope, land all bad. The scope is wild here and the heart one which has had to pull up stakes many times & move down the road. Okies, dust bowl devas and withered bones where the trail runs out. Where is the water? Tiding on the wind, yes, but not for all. As in many things, yet who are we dis the buzzards riding shotgun on the thermals? Certainly 'tis a roaring pleasure to read here. There is majesty in what isn't there ... Great contribution to the earthweal challenge, I was hoping we'd see places like this. What happens when drought wracks a region for decades, maybe centuries?

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    1. Thank you, B. for your kind words and the forum you are providing at earthweal. All too soon we may all be dust bowl refugees, or drowned, or burnt to a cinder and starved, unless this last wake-up call actually wakes us up.

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  6. Picking cotton was rough. Today, they have a machine and it leaves behind so much cotton. They make more money from the seed. During harvest season, there are patches of cotton that have been spilled on the side of the road. It looks like rubbish.

    I like the imagery. Climate change will be a bugger. You have captured some of the terror that will await portions of the world.

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  7. From "the river mud's soft folded stink" through the snake's empty promise to "the story of gulls"--I feel the water needed for growth becoming more and more of a myth. There will be no garden. I have never seen the badlands, but believe their place in the scenes you draw so expertly. The flow of this poem makes song of a very bleak content.

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  8. "the river mud's soft folded stink"....brilliant writing...JIM

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  9. "...belly empty as my mother's brown eyes..." "...deep in the gulch where the snake promised water and had nothing but dust..." "...I was small as the sand..."

    Touching upon the human element of a climate spiraling out of natural control is what found my eye and mind Joy. It is a bleak assessment of a reality I fear humans will not escape from.

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    1. No, not unless they wise up very very soon. Thanks, Mark. Often the only way to say something is to feel it. Good to see you come by.

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  10. "belly empty as my mother's brown eyes"...Sigh...that is just one amazing line among all the other ones in this powerful poem. I love how you have captured the process of loss and the deep feeling of it so wonderfully. It is always a pleasure to read your poems Joy!!

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  11. One of the American novels which is forever etched on my memory is Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, and your emotive description here immediately put me in mind of it. If a person has experience drought, of water, love, emotional well-being.. then a poem like this must always ring true.

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    1. Yes, too many lived that novel back in the Thirties. It seems like too many more will be living it again. And absence, of anything, is often a powerful erosive force. Thanks so much for your input, Kerry.

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"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats