That Old Frontier Spirit

When I was younger, I could not understand
how our forebears could use up the land
until all was wasted, then blithely move on.
That was what I assumed.
I’d never thought of it as a two-way street,
the forefathers putting in all of their blood, tears, sweat
the land giving back crops for a while,
and then increasingly, nothing.

Most of the time,
the weather’s unforgiving,
cold winters, rain lashing, soil unyielding
no matter how much nurturing feed they plowed in.
It’s a rare day in June when the sun shines
and those first settlers could put toil aside,
hearken back to when they’d first landed.
They’d thought then that they’d gained paradise.

I had not comprehended.
At some point, moving was the only option.
They were starving, and even though
it was home,
hopsack curtains in windows,
logs hewn with their own hands,
they needed to settle someplace that gave back.
If not in equal measure,
then maybe in some kinder proportion.

I’d always assumed it was foolish
not to engage in preventative measures.
I believed all sorts of things
could be foreseen.
I thought smart, reasonable persons could forestall
the deep structural cracks and
rifts at foundations that require the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to condemn bridges,
send you miles around.
Tornadoes, new technology, heavier trucks can’t be predicted.

Once-working things are rendered half-shut.
The engineers say it will take years to repair,
slow down things down indefinitely.
We suggest you find alternate routes.
In their research of the plans, their review of the sites,
sometimes the conclusion is thus:
the bridge should have never been placed there at all,
or there’s a flaw in the fundamental design.

Meanwhile, they re-route the traffic
cast the neighborhood into complete disarray,
backups, snarls, honking horns,
covered wagons looking for the trail leading
from now-barren lands as they head away, west.
Maybe there are hopsack curtains packed in the back;
or perhaps they left them behind
to shield the ghosts from the harsh sunlight.

The bridge construction crews were still at it last night
when I went to bed by myself.
It’s two years, now, with their project
their hydraulic tools and lights and jackhammers.
I don’t know if they’ll ever be done.
I debate whether to go out there and join them.
Or call out the window to just knock it off,
blow the thing up, and move on.
There’s a blank spot a mile over,
perfect for a shiny new cantilever.

O, pioneers!
Those old stories made you sound so brave.
I know now you were damned tired
and scared of the new roads ahead
as you hitched up your oxen
and headed out in the dawn.
Perhaps some part of you still had faith in portents,
but now I think maybe you’d just never fallen asleep
and you figured you might as well start before the traffic stacked up.

Did you look back, or was you wagon will be so full
that you couldn’t see over all the barrels of seed
and crates of fine calico fabric to see the old homestead?
Did you miss it when you found your new, more fertile place?
How long did it take for your seed to take root?
Did the sepia tones of memory fade of those
first days in the new world,
when everything flourished and grew?


One thought on “That Old Frontier Spirit

  1. CTJen

    oh, I’ve been away from the computer most of the day and realized that i forgot to leave a comment on this lovely post. I loved this poem. Loved. Never stop making poems because they are amazing.


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