The Dustbowl

       The Harvey Girls invaded Kansas that spring of the famine
nudged by sweet memories of cornfields in the snow.
       Okie weeders. Stranded in the orchards. Huts. Silos.


       Ah, the times they had—huts—racing down avenues
of rattly stalks, droopy and sere, oooo-eeee! roughhousing
       in jeans and poke bonnets until the laundry basin


       announced supper (thwacked) beans and jello (thwacked)
followed by coupling in the sheds. Alas that winter of the famine
       there were no sheds, and still they stayed, sullen


       girls of the south, squinting at yellow skies
out of verboten shacks. Alas that summer of the famine
       they breakfasted on leaves from gullies


       and the air tasted of acorns, ah, the meadows smelled of vanilla.
Alas that winter of the famine, their men lay down on the highways,
       and their women lay down with them, and felt the hot truck wind.


       Alas ladies in the cities, clutching their scalloped hankies,
oiled up the icy sidewalks in the violet dusk
       and hitching up their leather garments, fell and sued.


       Taxes. Caverns. Cereal. Vegetate. Simple gestures
(entering attics, bikes wobbling, dogs sunning)
       lurched into something checkerboard, with every piece


       outsized, gummed to attract the police.
The Harvey Girls slept until came the spring of the glut.
       Thrumming, the weed machines released an ebony menace.


       That summer of the glut, the fields were like monsters in heat,
and the Harvey Girls, freckled and worn, smiled at the northern mistral,
       and headed on mules for the mountains, that autumn of the glut.

Poems by Kenward Elmslie are used by permission of The Estate of Kenward Elmslie.