The Dirt People

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

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.
— dirt
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
— dirt
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

The Silver Locket

She wore a silver locket every day
Evelyn the milliner’s daughter.
After we shopped for fabric at the General.
we often went next door
to look at hats and the milliner’s daughter.

A simple dress was what she wore–
quite plain, yet elegantly sewn.
She twisted and rolled her shiny brown hair,
and a special air enveloped the girl
whose engraved silver locket danced
and swirled on a sterling chain.

Everyone remarked that the milliner’s daughter,
never wore her mother’s hats;
adorned only by that rich brown hair
and her secret silver locket.

The milliner’s shop became a legacy
to our town. We, who’d worn those fashioned
for Easter, weddings, and all life’s
celebrations, were amazed
when her creations were shown far and wide;
prized by wealthy matrons all over the state.

Life and styles slowly changed;
hats and milliners faded from fashion.
After they moved, John at the General got mail
from Evelyn for a while

She lived in Paris,
she knew Braque
who molded her into their art.
Each enchanted by her,
and the mysterious silver locket.

© Gay Reiser Cannon * All Rights Reserved


High Plains

My photo somewhere east of Amarillo

a yellowed parchment stretches
endless, seamless, vast — covering all
until it meets the soft blue-white batiste sky

that lies beyond it, trembling at its edge
distance without depth
arcing over, filling spaces

upon it chords of history written–
a kind of hieroglyphics, not of papyrus
less socialized, more tribal

a series of bumps and lines, geometries
that sing of falling stones, eroding mountains
of time and and endless passage

bison cows horses cowboys he(a)rd there
carved in cactus shapes, shimmering mirages
crusted for centuries; time-foot-hoof-pounded flat

sculpted fata morgana motifs of destiny
inscrutable from such distances
people of the land, one with it, crushed

to this quivering yellowness, this opus
of fullness and emptiness in horizontals
the air resonates and the pulse beats

percussive anthems against me
I am lifted on a singing thermal
and a great dusty symphony plays

© Gay Reiser Cannon 6.11.2012 * All Rights Reserved
Posted for OpenLinkNight @dVersePoets Pub
6/12/2012 where today’s landlady is the Hedgewitch herself!