A Dust Bowl farmer digs out a fence post to keep it from being buried under drifting sand in Cimarron County, Okla., in 1936.
© Arthur Rothstein/ Library of Congress from NPR
They were people of the dirt
life hung on a loosened nail,
barbed-wire lay like promises broken.
all their lives — all they knew.
Their kids, offshoots
of the mandrake root,
full of it – dirt, dirt, more dirt.
They farmed it such a long time.
What came from it, not even green words,
mosquitoes, heat, and lung disease.
A bit of water carried in pails,
poured by sunburned hands
to coax the sands.
drifted by wind,
spilled on tables,
filled window sills,
stuffed the furniture.
In the sugar bowls and salt shakers;
on the playing cards;
on the paper dolls, gritty when cutting out;
caked on marbles in the circle;
creasing the cigar treasure box
where the children played hollow eyed
living rusted lives in crusted disappointment.
Later the peanuts pushed out of the cracks;
melons grew, then split by heat
they ate their hearts.
Wind roared, sand pelted, snakes rattled
and all the spirit did was blow.
They were the people of the dirt.
They moved from one place to another.
The dirtiest was the dug-out–
living there, not clean
but at last cool; they eked out a living
from a little rain or making repairs in town.
Yet ever they moved on — until typhoid
caught them up and burials weighed them down.
Only dreaming of clean
cut from pages of a magazine:
running water, indoor plumbing
china, silver, a crystalline vision,
instead of dirt
between those pages, they’d find
a place to stop,
a place to learn,
and time to read.
Posted for my article on Beat Poetry @dVersePoets
The after-effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl as well as having come through WWII greatly influenced and affected the Beat Poets. Many blues songs which spoke about pain, loneliness, poverty, and loss filled their poems. I chose to present this period of my maternal family. This isn’t quite a protest poem but in a way it is. This was a government caused catastrophe. The poor farmers had been paid to plant the same crops without rotating year after year with government subsidies. Ignorance and greed again caused this horror of the 1930s.
© Gay Reiser Cannon * 10/13/113