10. Spring 1934: Bird’s Eye View

As the crow flies,
Lots lay in a checkerboard
Below. One man’s boundary
Straight against the next,
Turn-row to turn-row,
Perfect, all-encompassing
Geometry. Squares:
Some, larger–
Someone had a bigger loan.
Some, small–
Just hanging on.
All you had to do
Was work the land.

It was good land,
Everyone had said. Railroad had,
The banks, the Government,
The tiny towns.
In each pamphlet
Your folks read aloud,
Back East, as they’d
Planned the move:
If you’re not afraid of work,
If you have a little sense,
If you have some patience,
That first crop.
With mathematic logic,
The posted fliers
Sketched a sample year:
Price for seeding, outlay
For supplies. Cost
Of every need!
At the end, right
There in black and white,
Why, you came out golden,
Way ahead.

The land was good.
You’d wind up ahead,
If not this year, next.
The soil was rich.
True, rain might not come:
But more settlers, farms,
Would pull it down.
“The rain follows the plow,”
The common wisdom.

In the twenties, with the boom,
They’d broken sod.
“Wheat would win the war,”
They’d been told.
Cotton, too.
Then, Armistice signed,
The peace had come.
Europe fed its own.
Market collapsed.
Farming land, on
Paper worth a fortune,
Taxed sky-high–
But cotton brought no
Price. Then the skies
Dried out. Off
In wet East Texas,
They would call the Great Plains
“Next-year land.”
Next year for profit,
Next year’s crop.
But dry-land farmers
Saw what they did not.
How the prairie gave itself
To tractors–not a hill, a vale–
Made for machines!
And the acres
That one man could plow–
Twenty times
What Dad did with his team.
They never doubted.
It would come.

As the crow flies,
Now the squares changed
Color, green to brown.
Shallow wallows
Buffalo had rolled in,
Playa lakes,
Showed only after rain.
A rare morning shower,
Hour’s wealth of water,
Stared up in surprise.
Then it shrank,
A silver, swimming eye.
Sun drained off the shine.

Ponds were dust.
But it would rain again.
If not this month,
Next. Never
Was land parceled out
So neatly.
Never was it tended
So intently.
All you had to do
Was work the land.

4 Responses to “10. Spring 1934: Bird’s Eye View”

  1. Lisa Abraham Says:

    Beautiful music in this one, all the internal rhyme. I like the clarity of the opening images–the bird’s-eye view is so vivid.

  2. sshaver Says:

    It’s been awhile since I looked closely at these poems, so I found myself surprised by the internal rhymes that kind of lie in wait. I’m always reminded of this “bird’s eye view” when I fly back to West Texas and look out the window of my plane. There’s something about the topography of the region of our birth that stays with us, don’t you think? I’m not sure where you “hail” from!

  3. dzonokwa Says:

    This is off your particular topic but I wanted to connect with Shelley in the hopes that you are following up on the Sac Bee’s story on The Dust Bowl (Living Here, 11-13-12, D1, and all the talk about Ken Burns’ new film “The Dust Bowl” PBS documentary, airing Sun and Monday at 8 pm on Channel 6. There must be some way to lead readers to your wonderful collection of poems. Does Ken Burns know about you? He needs to. Darn–I am off to SFO for week of babysitting. Letter to Sac Bee? I will write one now.
    Ann Rothschild.

  4. sshaver Says:


    Yes, definitely. I will respond to your comment on the welcome page.

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