Mining the Motherlode: Moving Rural Verse


We are the tribe of the Motherlode Aquifer Twelve full millennia,
nomads have traveled here, making their camps
in the spring and the fall, seeking shelter in canyons
and washes and swales, building hearths of caliche,
and hunting and gathering life that collected where
water empowered it. Even when drought plagued
the prairie atop of it, water welled-up from the
sweet Ogallala lake all along Yellow House Draw
to the canyonland, nourishing passersby,
nomad and animal, nourishing all who tread
lightly and carefully. Here in the land
of the Motherlode aquifer, rain’s unpredictable,
even in good seasons, never enough, but for grasses and buffalo, never enough, but for
seasonal wanderers, never enough for the
dwellings of permanence needed for farming and
ranching and industry, never enough for the
chambers of commerce. Rain can’t be entrusted to
God and the elements, not by the tribe of the
Motherlode Aquifer. Deep in the earth through
the rock that encumbers it, down to the water sand,
down to the water pay, dig down with drilling rigs,
lay in the well casing, thrust in the sucker-rod,
pull it out, let it come drawing the water up;
drive it with wind-power, drive it with gasoline,
drive it electrically, pumping and pumping and
pumping ’til water runs shining in furrows and
sparkling on summer lawns, spewing through towers for
cooling the gas-flaring, coal-smoking power plants
making more energy pumping more water,
more water, more water, all over the land of the
Motherlode Aquifer. Here are no headwaters, little replenishing
what we are draining, so little restraining how
much we are using and how we are using it, here the great lake of
the Plains subterranean dwindles each season,
each turn of the faucet, each flick of the switch
starting up the submersibles, dwindling down ditches
through siphon tubes, dwindling down side-rolls
and pivots and gated pipe, dwindling down water gaps, water
mains, water taps, water drains, dwindling down every
new housing development, dwindling until there are
farms metamorphosing once-irrigated to dry-land
and grass pasture, letting their silos stand
empty as metaphor, testament, future-shock here
in the present-tense frailty, the fragile, the Motherlode Aquifer. Humbling enough is this
waste of our own making; here, where we once believed
rain followed plow, believed boosters, promoters,
and huckster developers, hitched-up our wagons
to forty small acres, plowed fence-row to fence-row
with cash crops on banknotes, built churches, raised children
and sent them to colleges, sent them to wars, sent them
out of the hinterlands, sent them to places that
never relinquished them. Here, from the land of
the Motherlode Aquifer, people are leaving for jobs
in the popular cities, are leaving as victims
of bottom-line corporate discounters
driving off businesses started by yours and my
mom-and-pop grandparents, corporate farmers
replacing the families, swashbucklers, slashing
and cutting, efficiency chanted as mantra,
while nobody’s answering who will take care of the
Motherlode Aquifer? Fear lines our pocket-books,
fear comes in quarter-inch four-by-eight plywood sheets
nailed over window panes, fear grows in weeds in the
sidewalks of vacancies, fear breeds the
desperate bargaining: jobs! bring us jobs!
bring us jobs! bring us jobs! bring us anything, bring us the worst of your
wastes and your prisoners, radioactive and toxic,
the detritus, social and otherwise, flushed
from the gutter-pipes laid from the centers of
power and influence, aimed at the weak, at the
people of choicelessness, stumbling around in the wastes
not their own making, wastes that will poison
the Motherlode Aquifer. Humbling enough is this
come-hither beggaring, pleading, abasing ourselves
with our appetites; worse, still, the Motherlode
Aquifer’s guardians shockingly favoring
selling our water rights, falling to pitches from
old-fashioned renegades nowadays using computers
for running-irons, nowadays using their
lawyers for wire-cutters, nowadays throwing out
sound-bites for lariats, bullying water boards
into considering selling our lifeblood
at low bid, not worrying selling tomorrow
to pay for today, selling every last drop
of the Motherlode Aquifer. What will become of us
when we are waterless? we of the tribe of the
Motherlode Aquifer, nomads and wanderers
rooted by water wells, cities and homesteads and
farmlands and cattle spreads, everything other than
short grass and buffalo wholly dependent on
mining the Motherlode? Far away, far away,
where rain is plentiful year-in and year-out
and always predictable, learned professors have
studied the exodus made by our people, our
water, our resources, calling our depopulation
a certainty, saying why fight it? let’s recognize lost causes
when they are lost causes, let’s give the prairie back, back to the ruminants,
back to the grasses, let’s give us a home
where the buffalo roam, where the skies are not
cloudy all day after day after day after day where the antelope
seldom are heard for there’s no one to hear
the discouraging word when the commons belong
to the buffalo — crazy! say chambers of commerce, but who’s crazy now, as we drink
up our Motherlode Aquifer? now, as we poison our
Motherlode Aquifer? now, as we sell-off our
Motherlode Aquifer? Poets and dreamers,
the only true realists, live in the future,
they do not imagine it, seeing tomorrow with
yesterday’s sorrowings, seeing tomorrow as
here-and-now’s borrowings, seeing the present as
future’s own history. Poets and dreamers,
the only true realists, know that the gift is
the ultimate mystery, knowing a gift not in
motion is powerless, knowing no gift can be
taken for profiting, knowing no gift can be
subject to ownership. Poets and dreamers who
live on El Llano know what is the gift but the
Motherlode Aquifer? What will we do with this
gift of the Motherlode? Pray that the poets and
dreamers remember it, pray that its guardians
hold it in stewardship, pray that we honor it,
pray that we husband it, pray for the tribe of the
Motherlode Aquifer, pray for the water,
the sweet Ogallala lake, nourishing all who tread
lightly and carefully, lightly and carefully, lightly and carefully.

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