July 9, 2012 The Drought

Continuing in the weather vein, as the weather continues to vex. I didn’t really know who Gary Soto was until I did a little looking–at first I mistook him for Gary Snyder, given the nature theme and western swing of this 12-liner. Soto was born in 1952 in California, and, though an undistinguished student through high school, had the chance to study poetry with Philip Levine (a MV favorite) at Cal State Fresno in the 1970’s. He’s perhaps better known for children’s and young adult fiction, although his poetry has won some awards as well. The poem below comes from a volume that was nominated for the Pulitzer. Note how peaceful and threatening the images are, and how sure-footed the diction. -ed.
THE DROUGHT
The clouds shouldered a path up the mountains
East of Ocampo, and then descended,
Scraping their bellies gray on the cracked shingles of slate.
They entered the valley, and passed the roads that went
Trackless, the houses blown open, their cellars creaking
And lined with the bottles that held their breath for years.
They passed the fields where the trees dried thin as hat racks
And the plow’s tooth bit the earth for what endured.
But what continued were the wind that plucked the birds spineless
And the young who left with a few seeds in each pocket,
Their belts tightened on the fifth notch of hunger—
Under the sky that deafened from listening for rain.
-1977
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