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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Pamela Uschuk

Song of Creosote and Rain

Rain, we say, and the sweet scour of creosote perfume rasps off thorns

snagging migrant sleeves that cross midnight borders,

evade the heat-seeking binoculars of border police.

Rain, and we gather isolated in desert yards to inhale the moist leaf scent

of transplanted eucalyptus, rugged native mesquite.

Rain, and anxiety’s sweat crouches in the shadows of mourning doves

hunkered in willows hiding behind their long green hair.

Rain, we say, and we turn off the natter of news analysts

justifying chain link cages where refugee children curl

crying for parents detained for the crime of being poor.

Rain, and we pull the hems of sea green sheets closer

over our shoulders turning free on an axis of dreams.

Rain, and we lick desire’s swollen lips

above our thighs tightening beyond fear.

Rain, and ravens sleeps late, unmoved by coyotes

ripping a clutch of young rabbits pinned beneath their hunger.

Rain, and aloes bulge tumescent skins,

exhaling bombs of oxygen for us to breathe.

Rain, and tires pull bandages of speed from the lost traveler’s eyes.

Rain, and the chapped hands of wind rest in dawn’s quiet lap.

Rain, and grandmothers age backward to hope’s coy glance

undressing loneliness, tossing off musty wool blankets

for the next street dance in semi-dark.

Rain, we say, flexing knees, practicing for the final leap back to stars

whose language we’ve taken a lifetime to learn.

Rain, and cell phones turn themselves off, tired of gossip,

of wheedling presidential tweets.

Rain, and lovers find the lost faces of their beloveds under the eaves.

Rain knits a cool shawl of light to comfort misery’s desert-scarred skin.

Rain, we say, and creosote sweet leaps to each migrant’s lips.

To the Next

Now in the people that were meant to be green there is no more life of any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!
–Hildegarde of Bingen

Wind today drives gravel like buckshot

into everyone’s lungs, even mule deer

nibbling the sweet new leaves of scrub oak that

appear to be as dead as the road-killed jackrabbit

begging help from the far flow of the Milky Way.


What can we make of sun that sets like a platinum moon

ghosting monstrous miles of thick blown dust from China

like a B-grade science fiction movie as we drive the high plateau

home in the Southern Rockies? Where once ravens flew

through the atmosphere’s clarity, roils

an ocean of grit, icy and gray as powdered concrete.


And, in the brood mare pasture, a fat black gas storage tank

squats next to a fracking well installed a week ago, cast

iron toadstool blocking the view of earth’s sacred curve.

My feet tingle from months of chemo assault

that murdered nerves. Did the horses or ravens

or I ask for benzene infused in water we drink?


On NPR we listen to a scientist discuss

the reality of Climate Change, reassuring us

that we can adjust. The President tweets

it’s all a hoax. I switch on the blues,

Muddy Waters, whose Mississippi Delta voice

churns through heartbreak’s murk, the sludge of backwater

lies smothering us. Somehow, Muddy lifts our chins

as we exit another smoky bar of longing.


How can the stars we’ve loved for years cut clear maps

through this vast dust obliterating the highest peaks, storm

ravens dare, wings curved like scythes we ride

from one dead tree to the next?

Oh, Say Can You See

Not Rap not rock nor country twang, it’s Taps

played six years into our patio at sunset, the bugle taped

as clear and sorrowful as broken chairs at the kitchen table.

Now the neighbor’s added The Star Spangled Banner

at noon to blast pride into our hunkered-down hood.

Does he think we’ll rally, recruits against surgical masks

and gloves marching to the righteous support

of tear gas or rubber bullets maiming

peaceful protesters against police brutality?

Must be ex-military I think, unfairly, maybe

a supporter of the White House king of greed

shifting blame, tossing inarticulate grenades of hate

at anyone who contradicts his doctrine of degradation.

I could be wrong. Who is this neighbor I’ve never seen

who blasts musical messages across the arroyo

near the baby goats and burros I’d rather hear?

Does he assume we snap to attention, hands

slapped over hearts grieving the ragged flag of corporate

rule—seven million more Americans lost health insurance

last week, Corona cases overburdened Emergency Rooms

will treat. Between the gusting lyrics of patriotic zeal

and the jack hammer nattering away at caliche

in the accountant’s yard, there is no peace.

When the hundred and fifty thousand dead of this virus rise,

what ghost anthem will they sing?


Political activist and wilderness advocate, Pam Uschuk has howled out six books of poems, including Crazy Love (Wings Press 2009), winner of a American Book Award; Finding Peaches in the Desert (Tucson/Pima Literature Award); and her most recent, Blood Flower (Wings Press, 2015), which was one on Book List’s Notable Books. She is a 2018–2021 Black Earth Institute fellow.

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