Saturday, December 12, 2015

Place Poems, Part I: "Poem in Black and White"

As Califonia's snowpack returns, the poem "Poem in Black & White" comes to mind. It begins with an epigraph from Roget's Thesaurus:

The ... classification of colours does not entirely accord with the theories of modern science: Complete lists of shades are beyond the scope of this work.

On a December afternoon so cold it would snow
if the sky over Palomar weren't so dry,
we move around to keep ourselves warm:
run the mower back and forth over the umber grass
and believe that it will grow back. But for today
we natives want snow, while the snowbirds from
Montreal and Kansas City tell us, “You don't know
what you're asking for.”
                                      We want snow to fall on
last Spring's ferns and hush their rustling,
to cover the autumn montage of leaves from
white oaks and sycamores that pile high,
to hold the pages still and whiteout all
but the wet, black trunks that stand up,
through the heavy white.
                                     We want the snow to fall and
cushion the rocks and gorse bushes and
leave nothing but the reaching trees. But the
snowbirds tell us, "Only fools wish for snow."

Why would we want a black and white movie, when
under the blue sky we have the florid fallen leaves,
and beneath Palomar, green fairways?
We try to describe snowy light cooling our eyes,
and the click of stones in our dry summers,
dry like Chicago doesn't understand.
We seem to have a drought of words
to make them hear how we need the water, and
how our sunny weather can sustain only so many streams, only
so many towns where the chief joy is not having to shovel snow,
how subtly ceanothus fades from purple to gray in March, and
that gray is a color.

Click to here Drought Buoy perform this poem.