Desert road, sand beneath sore feet, the horizon
curves full circle,
like an ocean,
but dry, hot, lost.
Nothing moves save the wavering heat and a dust devil
in the distance who swirls himself
Far-off gray-ocher mountains striated with ancient pigments,
etched by rain, scratched by wind, heat,
by the scorings and scuffings of time unbound—
the guttered remnants of a prairie
of bluestem, dropseed, coneflowers,
once undulating, amaranthine,
to the horizon, once thriving,
I pause to speak with it but it is too old,
or I am too young. A phantom wind mutters
furtive warnings. Scattered cacti stand
like petrified traffic cops directing dust. Impassive blood-red boulders sit in
defiant congregation, lithic trolls manifested from the underworld
by the receding of the erodible earth. Prickly pears jut
from the hardscrabble like tobacco-stained teeth,
like desecrated monuments guarding the scoured gullies of the dead.
A rattlesnake eyes me
from the shade of a blistered creosote bush. I pause to look at him
but he shies away, recoils into a ball, tongue flicking from a stony grimace.
We are not friends.
On the horizon, a plume of dust builds, approaches,
gathers around like a shroud.
Do I need a ride?
Am I sure?
A buzzard traces spirals above our conversation, amused.
I walk until I am.
She is old but she remembers
the coming and going of people.
how the lively brook once staunched
beneath lines curbs and layers of tar
pounded by multitudes on a restless commute
piped channeled culverted dammed—damned—
to a retention pond a constructed wetland and
diverted downtrodden amputated
over age-smoothed stones.
mountains scalped by grating yellow scarabs
shorelines rutted with harbors breakwaters piers
rivers dredged by barges stretched into canals
flattened with dams marshes drained
for endless lawns of
rice that were
resculpted by floods
reshaped by winds
restored by glaciers
renewed by the ceaseless bump and grind of continents.
bacteria fungi crawling and burrowing things challenged
by Barbie dolls baseballs styrofoam peanuts batteries
by paint cans fridges razor blades pesticides
by wrappers and zippers and gizmos and gadgets
by a million tykes bikes trikes mics piled
as mountains landscaped even or floating
on the wide ocean or blowing in the wind
skies opaque oddly thick strangely hued billows
of darkness from oily flues water streaked
creamy frothed slicked of surface upturned fish
ocean gyre plastic island island sanctuary
of net-throttled birds a turtle choking
on a plastic bag a pelican heavy with oily goo
how with new enzymes evolved deployed
slowly munching they brought her corrupted elements back
from the people
new food for the trees.
cities (monstrous things) loud overstuffed
that stopped crumbled were overgrown swallowed
the last survivor was a pyramid who was ground down into sand.
their steps the people four palms then two feet
bare then sandaled or variously shod
and the length of them set out enfolded in earth
the feel of their passing the rapid decay of
then long bone
marked by a stone bearing a name
now under moss
now under lichen
now ashes like their bones
now dust like their teeth.
Steve Hallett is British-Australian-American poet and professor of horticulture at Purdue University, Indiana, where he studies and teaches ecology, international development, and sustainable agriculture. He directs the university’s sustainable food and farming systems program and its student farm. Steve is the author of over fifty research articles and book chapters, and the author of two books: Life without Oil (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY; 2011) and The Efficiency Trap (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY: 2013). Poetry is a new medium for Steve, through which he continues to explore themes of social and environmental justice, and humanity’s relationship to the natural world.