In commemoration of the end of the quarter

March 17, 2009

Feed-reading is, for me, a fundamentally thoughtless process. It involves downloading as much information into my brain as possible in the few minutes I spend reading. I make occasional exceptions for pieces on academic subjects, like geography, games as media, Portuguese (podcasts included), and public policy. But if I must take a break from the fervor, I most enjoy the kind afforded to me by Starting Today: Poems for the First 100 Days.

This blog publishes one American poem for each of the first 100 days of the new presidency. In reading it, I feel like I’ve been exposed to a side of modern literature that is woefully undercovered in high school English classes. You do see the occasional traditional form—today’s poem was a villanelle—but the variety of the offerings is great. (It also helps that I don’t have to listen to a teacher harping on themes and poetic devices…)

Anyway, a few weekends ago, I took a day trip to June Mountain, about 20 miles north of Mammoth. The six-hour drive up Route 395—my first—took us through desert, snow, and everything in between. When you think about it, isn’t it amazing that the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney, is just some 70 miles from Death Valley, the lowest point in North America (and an example of the rainshadow from which this blog takes its name)? The scenery was exquisite, and even more so because I understood, from class, exactly what I was looking at: hundreds of years of geological processes coalesced into awesome formations.

So, in commemoration of my trip, in celebration of physical geography, and in the spirit of Starting Today, I wrote a poem! This way, I can say that something good came out of twelve hours of driving… anyway, please enjoy, and as always, criticism is appreciated!


We plunged ahead into the naked dawn.

As we left the city
the earth sang to me.
Bajadas, he sang, and
    his peculiar lilting inflection
    bore a trace of an accent
    from somewhere out of Bogotá.

And then his voice would swell with vigor
and he’d exclaim, forcefully, buttes,
    smashing too many phonemes
    into one syllable.
And I could hear the individual strata
in his candor.

Or he’d fall silent, and his impassive,
unknowable thoughts
would be punctuated by only
    a thirsty gray-green
    xerophyte, here,

In the mountains
he sang of eras past.
Recalled the reign of ice over the land,
and launched into the staccato:
    trough, horn, cirque, tarn, col, arête,
    ambling and slicing along
    in 6/8 time.
Sierra, he insisted, sierra nevada.

At Minaret Summit, he called me to prayer.
And though I’d never prayed before
I heeded the call
and bent my head.

We had to listen closely to the road.
To search, evaluate, and execute
as we traversed its noise and rumble
with our tire-tread stethoscope,
    our interpreter who failed
    the penny test.
the earth thrummed with the
radiant pulse of his own being,
his own constancy.

The wind through the windows
shimmered between breathy, expansive stillness
and some muted, far-off Gregorian chant.
The earth sang
and waited for us to respond.

And when we didn’t,
the earth continued to turn.
Brooks continued to babble.
St. Helens continued to sputter.
    And if we could only sequence his “magma, igneous, sulfur,”
    as we have codons,
    we might understand where he hurt.

The chorus reached its crescendo;
he was singing from every orifice.
Yet when he sighed
    and with boom— crash—
    leveled three townships,
we couldn’t understand
that he needed
to yawn
and stretch.


2 Responses to “In commemoration of the end of the quarter”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Hello Amy!

    Thank you for your comment on my blog regarding racism in Brazil. I was wondering if you’d be interested in writing a guest post regarding your experiences in Brazil about race and discrimination (nothing incredibly long, but something similar to your comment). Let me know if you’d be interested. Thank you! Beijos, Rio Gringa

    • Amy Says:

      Hi Rachel,

      I’d be happy to write a guest post for your blog. I sent an email to the address you provided with your comment. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to do!


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