Note: These poems focus on the summer of 2018--summer itself, a visit to a state forest lodge and ruminations on our sad political scene and its aftermath.
The roadside flags of orange, blue, white
Honor the nation of midsummer.
Daylilies, chicory, Queen Anne’s lace
Border the regulated crops,
Corn, beans, alfalfa.
The days are dogged with haze.
A brush of heat lightning at dusk
Paints a storm too far away
To render, but obliquely.
The new foals doze in the pastures
Flat-out as if dead. The mares
Stomp flies and graze.
The birds whirl off when the hawk
Strikes. They won’t return for days.
Deer rest in the woodlot shade
Camouflaged in patience.
I turn the pages of my book
Absorbing almost nothing.
How words become receptacles
Emptied of thought. My eyes close
Involuntarily in the hush
Of the seamless world.
On the barren road with their baskets
Of scant possessions
Or lugging their starving children.
On the roof of the northbound train
Struggling to stay awake
As the stars begin to pepper the night.
On the desert trail searching for
The outposts of water
Watching for searchlights and dogs.
All of these sojourners suffering.
Their homes ruined, their fields burned.
Their neighbors slaughtered in their courtyards.
Their feet bleeding, eyes red
From dust, their hearts
What is it they want enough
To attempt this journey,
To keep on living despite the hardship.
Some fall to their knees by the roadside.
Get up Get up some cry
While others keep on plodding
Like animals in the great migration.
To die peacefully in a bed
At the end of life, who doesn’t want that.
Who doesn’t want love,
Even the slightest comfort. The moon
Assumes its sickle phase
In the sign of weaning.
The wind is harsh, it separates
The final leaf from the limb
And sweeps over the unforgiving acres
Where refugees move onward
In silent persistent lines.
THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS
Interlaced light and shadow as the road winds
Through the old-growth pines.
The log lodge constructed by the CCC in the thirties,
Heart of the Great Depression. Young men sweating to earn
$25 a month. They could keep a fifth, the rest sent home
To their hungry families. The beauty of their varnished labor,
Enormous beams and river stones. A memorial photo where
They pose skinny and muscled in undershirts
Grinning or weary holding axes or mauls.
We’re here for a lavish brunch
They could not imagine. Melons, berries,
Sliced bananas, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, quiche,
French toast, American fries, pancakes, bacon,
Sausage links, biscuits and gravy,
Sticky buns, rhubarb muffins, cinnamon rolls,
Syrups, jellies, local honey. Lines trudge
The long display of all-you-can-eat,
Coffee, tea, juice or milk.
Across the country lodges like these
Among the trees or canyons or waterfalls or peaks
Where for a cot in a tent and three squares
They built bridges over creeks,
Fenced roads with rocks,
Laid wide-planked floors,
Hammered wood shakes onto roofs.
After the poverty that fed them and their folks
They went home and then to war,
More tents, K-rations, aiming rifles
Instead of hatchets, those ghost-eyed youngsters
Of hard times.
Today, we plunk our loaded plates
On tables, spread broad napkins
On our laps and eat.
© 2018 Joan Colby
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