Click here to listen to Jim Powell read this poem.
When no rain fell for twenty-two infernal months to spare the forage before it failed we tried stampeding droves of horses over ocean cliffs. We penned them in corrals to starve. We slaughtered cattle in numbers surpassing our capacity
to flay or cure the hides and rescue a return
from the disaster by trade with Yankee smugglers.
And still the herds remaining grazed the native grasses
down to the barren root before the feast
of their parched carcasses gorged vultures and coyotes.
And even so, no rain. It was afterward,
once the climate's seasonal storms resumed
their cycle that the alien mustard weed took hold here,
spreading further north each year. Already
my younger daughters have never seen this countryside
arrayed in March otherwise than in mustard gold.
It grows so rank along the valley bottoms
by May it overtops a person's head on horseback
but, as the summer weather settles in,
hillsides again put on their oaten coat of old
in the weeks when, well before dawn, a warming air
begins to stoke the purgatorial oven
of afternoon. Wisest to rest out the heat
within a cool retreat, shifting from shade
to shade among the oak and aromatic bay
as morning shadows dwindle to a line, a breath,
and pause and change direction while time hangs
aloof, suspended in the balance of the sun,
or from a sheltered cleft gaze out upon
the lion colored landscape with its indecent contours,
the hollows buttocks have, the dimples of a shoulder:
at dusk the deer and cougar disappear
while motionless against its pelt of brittle grasses
when lamps are lighting in the valley's lap
and the emerging stars construct the vault of night.