a variation on (or, more likely, a deviation from) isadora gruye’s “doomsday heart”


The clouds have piled up to the west once again,

Grave and solemn as ancient, inscrutable judges

As they roll off the lake out toward Buffalo,

Odd ciphering of dots and dashes camouflaged in the heat lightning,

The key to its code beyond our ken

(Though we suspect the message is straightforward enough:

No rain for your beans and sorghum tonight.)

We are steadfast in our belief that rain will come,

Indeed, that it must come, if for no more reason

Than our fathers believed it would come,

And their fathers before them as well,

No matter that it was a simpler time then,

And confidence and conviction simpler as well:

No maze of subsidy and acronym to navigate,

No peppers from Argentina, no corn from DuPont.


We have seen the grain markets roller-coaster and ricochet,

The price per hundredweight of milk crash in a manner

Which sent our citified ancestors strolling off window ledges,

And yet we continue (aided and abetted by the bank,

The co-op, the seed company, each of whom also knows

Exactly what the denouement entails) the cycle of madness:

Plow, plant, harvest, then winters of regret

Until it is time to plow and plant again,

Each year the liquid manure smelling a bit more acrid,

As if there was some Gomorrah smoldering under the surface,

Its inhabitants blind, soulless, and cackling at us

With something that may as well be malice.


How to carry on, then? Surely we could not be blamed

If we rent our garments and rolled madly in the dust,

Cursing God or jabbering in tongues,

But that is not our way, has never been our way,

And so we face one more cold snap that takes the tottering lambs,

One more inconvenient frost which threatens the apples and grapes,

With antique stoicism and grimly set jaws

As we stare at one more darkening sky,

The thunder in the distance all but issuing a mocking challenge to our fidelity,

In wait for some moisture, some meteorological baptism

That is far from certain to come.

It’s what leads us to faith, so those who reside in the pulpits tell us,

Ascetic men who tip-toe through the barnyards and pastures

As though the cowflops were landmines,

But we could tell them that faith is no blank cheque which awaits us

At the end of days, but is rather the grim and desperate struggle

To force our gods and demons into a box

And somehow secure the lid as we simply try to ride it all down just one more day.







6 thoughts on “a variation on (or, more likely, a deviation from) isadora gruye’s “doomsday heart”

  1. What a great, great poem. It strongly reminds me of the book, “The Worst Hard Time,” by Timothy Egan, by far the best book I’ve ever read about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. I think you’d like it. This poem would be perfect to place at the front of this book as part of the introduction.
    Very Nice work,

  2. Such a cycle of depression, despair and futility, and no alternative, no hope beyond hope. You have laid the plight of countless farmers before our feet and allowed us to weep with them. Brilliant.

  3. What a strong poem! The voice in this is so clear that I feel like I’m listening to a stoic farmer tell his own story. With the despair there is also the pride. Fantastic write.

  4. Would that the cycle of despair be broken, somehow. Alas, there is no hint here of the final spirit of Hope out of Pandora’s box; only those swirling wraiths and demons that preceded.

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