The Wind Our Enemy

Original Text: 
Marriott, Anne. The Circular Coast: Poems, New and Selected. Oakville, ON L6L5N9: Mosaic Press/Valley Editions, 1252 Spears Road, Units 1-2, 1981: 60-69. URL: www.mosaic-press.com
1Wind
2flattening its gaunt furious self against
3the naked siding, knifing in the wounds
4of time, pausing to tear aside the last
5old scab of paint.
6Wind
7surging down the cocoa-coloured seams
8of summer-fallow, darting in about
9white hoofs and brown, snatching the sweaty cap
10shielding red eyes.
11Wind
12filling the dry mouth with bitter dust
13whipping the shoulders worry-bowed too soon,
14soiling the water pail, and in grim prophecy
15greying the hair.
II.
16The wheat in spring was like a giant's bolt of silk
17Unrolled over the earth.
18When the wind sprang
19It rippled as if a great broad snake
20Moved under the green sheet
21Seeking its outward way to light.
22In autumn it was an ocean of flecked gold
23Sweet as a biscuit, breaking in crisp waves
24That never shattered, never blurred in foam.
25That was the last good year...
III.
26The wheat was embroidering
27All the spring morning
28Frail threads needled by sunshine like thin gold
29A man's heart could love his land
30Smoothly self-yielding,
31Its broad spread promising all his granaries might hold.
32A woman's eyes could kiss the soil
33From her kitchen window,
34Turning its black depths to unchipped cups -- a silk crepe dress --
35(Two-ninety-eight, Sale Catalogue)
36Pray sun's touch be gentleness,
37Not a hot hand scorching flesh it would caress.
38But sky like a new tin pan
39Hot from the oven
40Seemed soldered to the earth by horizon of glare...
41The third day he left the fields...
42Heavy scraping footsteps
43Spoke before his words, 'Crops dried out .- everywhere -- '
IV.
44They said, 'Sure, it'll rain next year!'
45When that was dry, 'Well, next year anyway.'
46Then, 'Next --'
47But still the metal hardness of the sky
48Softened only in mockery.
49When lightning slashed and twanged
50And thunder made the hot head surge with pain
51Never a drop fell;
52Always hard yellow sun conquered the storm.
53So the soon sickly-familiar saying grew,
54(Watching the futile clouds sneak down the north)
55'Just empties goin' back!'
56(Cold laughter bending parched lips in a smile
57Bleak eyes denied.)
V.
58Horses were strong so strong men might love them,
59Sides groomed to copper burning the sun,
60Wind tangling wild manes, dust circling wild hoofs,
61Turn the colts loose! Watch the two-year-olds run!
62Then heart thrilled fast and the veins filled with glory
63The feel of hard leather a fortune more sweet
64Than a girl's silky lips. He was one with the thunder,
65The flying, the rhythm, of untamed, unshod feet!
66But now --
67It makes a man white-sick to see them now,
68Dull -- heads sagging -- crowding to the trough --
69No more spirit than a barren cow.
70The well's pumped dry to wash poor fodder down,
71Straw and salt -- and endless salt and straw
72(Thank God the winter's mild so far)
73Dry Russian thistle crackling in the jaw --
74The old mare found the thistle pile, ate till she bulged,
75Then, crazily, she wandered in the yard,
76Saw a water-drum, and staggering to its rim
77Plodded around it -- on and on in hard
78Madly relentless circle. Weaker .- stumbling --
79She fell quite suddenly, heaved once and lay.
80(Nellie the kid's pet's gone, boys.
81Hitch up the strongest team. Haul her away.
82Maybe we should have mortgaged all we had
83Though it wasn't much, even in good years, and draw
84Ploughs with a jolting tractor.
85Still -- you can't make gas of thistles or oat straw.)
VI.
86Relief.
87        'God, we tried so hard to stand alone!'
88Relief.
89        'Well, we can't let the kids go cold.'
90        They trudge away to school swinging half-empty lard-pails
91        to shiver in the schoolhouse (unpainted seven years),
92        learning from a blue-lipped girl
93        almost as starved as they.
94Relief cars.
95        'Apples, they say, and clothes!'
96        The folks in town get their pick first,
97        Then their friends --
98        'Eight miles for us to go so likely we
99        won't get much --'
100        'Maybe we'll get the batteries charged up and have
101        the radio to kind of brighten things --'
102Insurgents march in Spain
103Japs bomb Chinese
104Airliner lost
105        'Maybe we're not as badly off as some --'
        'Maybe there'll be a war and we'll get paid to fight --'
106        'Maybe --'
107        'See if Eddie Cantor's on to-night!'
VII.
108People grew bored
109Well-fed in the east and west
110By stale, drought-area tales,
111Bored by relief whinings,
112Preferred their own troubles.
113So those who still had stayed
114On the scorched prairie
115Found even sympathy
116Seeming to fail them
117Like their own rainfall.
118'Well .- let's forget politics,
119Forget the wind, our enemy!
120Let's forget farming, boys,
121Let's put on a dance tonight!
122Mrs. Smith'll bring a cake,
123Mrs. Olsen coffee's swell!'
124The small uneven schoolhouse floor
125Scraped under big work-boots
126Cleaned for the evening's fun,
127Gasoline lamps whistled.
128One Hungarian boy
129Snapped a shrill guitar,
130A Swede from out north of town
131Squeezed an accordion dry,
132And a Scotchwoman from Ontario
133Made the piano dance
134In time to 'The Mocking Bird'
135And 'When I Grow too Old Dream',
136Only taking time off
137To swing in a square-dance,
138Between ten and half-past three.
139Yet in the morning
140Air peppered thick with dust,
141All the night's happiness
142Seemed far away, unreal
143Like a lying mirage,
144Or the icy-white glare
145Of the alkali slough.
VIII.
146Presently the dark dust seemed to build a wall
147That cut them off from east and west and north,
148Kindness and honesty, things they used to know,
149Seemed blown away and lost
150In frantic soil.
151At last they thought
152Even God and Christ were hidden
153By the false clouds
154-- Dust-blinded to the staring parable,
155Each wind-splintered timber like a pain-bent Cross.
156Calloused, groping fingers, trembling
157With overwork and fear,
158Ceased trying to clutch at some faith in the dark,
159Thin, sick courage fainted, lacking hope.
160But tightened, tangled nerves scream to the brain
161If there is no hope, give them forgetfulness!
162The cheap light of the beer-parlour grins out,
163Promising shoddy security for an hour.
164The Finn who makes bad liquor in his barn
165Grows fat on groaning emptiness of souls.
IX.
166The sun goes down. Earth like a thick black coin
167Leans its round rim against the yellowed sky.
168The air cools. Kerosene lamps are filled and lit
169In dusty windows. Tired bodies crave to lie
170In bed forever. Chores are done at last.
171A thin horse neighs drearily. The chickens drowse,
172Replete with grasshoppers that have gnawed and scraped
173Shrivelled garden leaves. No sound from the gaunt cows.
174Poverty, hand in hand with fear, two great
175Shrill-jointed skeletons stride loudly out
176Across the pitiful fields, none to oppose.
177Courage is roped with hunger, chained with doubt.
178Only against the yellow sky, a part
179Of the jetty silhouette of barn and house
180Two figures stand, heads close, arms locked,
181And suddenly some spirit seems to rouse
182And gleam, like a thin sword, tarnished, bent,
183But still shining in the spared beauty of moon,
184As his strained voice says to her, 'We're not licked yet!
185It must rain again .- it will! Maybe .- soon .- '
X.
186Wind
187in a lonely laughterless shrill game
188with broken wash-boiler, bucket without
189a handle, Russian thistle, throwing up
190sections of soil.
191God, will it never rain again? What about
192those clouds out west? No, that's just dust, as thick
193and stifling now as winter underwear.
194No rain, no crop, no feed, no feed, no faith, only
195wind.
Publication Start Year: 
1939
Publication Notes: 
The Wind Our Enemy. Toronto, ON: Ryerson, 1939.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh
RPO Edition: 
2009
Form: 
Special Copyright: 

"The Wind Our Enemy" &copy; copyright Mosaic Press, 1252 Spears Road, Units 1-2, Oakville, ON L6L5N9. Permission to republish in RPO is acknowledged with gratitude. URL: <a href="http://www.mosaic-press.com">www.mosaic-press.com</a>