Economists diagnose these towns
Old mills get new coats
of green paint to blend in,
but one blow and they fold
like cheap suits.
The highway drones on, a politician
full of promises.
It's a fairy tale: each year
another dry spell. Tractors turn
into blackberry briars.
People grow mean,
growling at children in parking lots.
Liquor stores bloom like weeds
like gospel nailed to trees
one small sign on the highway
to drive any man to drink.
In mining country, the relief map is staked
with hundreds of X's, declaring themselves prospects.
Follow the word to the roots,
the Latin prospectus, you find "distant view,"
and even deeper, "to look forward."
In this country a prospect was something
you could hold in your hand, a lump of lead.
Which means a prospect can also be poison.
A prospect was the way you walked up gulches
carrying a pickaxe, shovel, a placer pan. Which means
a prospect could get you lost.
Sometimes a prospect is something you only expect
to happen, the probability of deposits, something
as intangible as the sky, or the vague fear
the mountains work into you at night.
What you learn up here is sometimes you strike
the mother lode, and sometimes you don't.
You learn ore dries up, creeks go sour. You learn weather
is ultimately indifferent,
that hills wither in the right wind.
You learn, really, it's every man for himself. That only
those who can afford the best tools survive.
No wonder the sky seems wider than the mind.
All the giants fell to earth.
Transmission towers serve as reminders
Of their former place in these mountains,
Skeletal as they are.
Power lines they drag around sag.
The sky is that heavy.
Grass waves like a green river, as if
The whole land might drain in a night.
No wonder they nailed the whole thing down
With fences and poles and stories
No one could believe anymore.
But each time they opened the ground
Black rags of plastic caught on the wind
Fluttered on barbed wire like frantic birds.
Living in clefts of hills, maybe you don't feel so small.
They built everything of wood—
This was their first mistake.
The remaining willows lingering on creeks
Sprout like weeds under the open hoods
Of junked cars and farm machines.
That's the trouble with history—
It always seems to be happening
In the wrong direction.
You know, the wind is incapable of distinguishing
Between the walls of a barn or a church.
I imagine on the hilltops they felt
Set adrift on a slow motion storm, directionless,
The town in the lees about to be sucked under.
That's the problem with living
In these hills—
You're always left thinking
You're at the bottom of things.
There must have been times they thanked God
For roads more than rain.
When those little garages closed up
There was nowhere left to go
To talk about the changes
In the weather.
Sean says, "I am a travel writer, teacher, husband, and naturalist in Portland, Oregon. I have poems appearing or forthcoming in Exquisite Corpse, The Pedestal Magazine, elimae, Alba, diode, In Posse Review, Willow Springs, and Quarter After Eight."