05 April 2009

April 5 - Poem A Day Challenge - Landmark

From Poetic Asides.

Today's prompt:
"I want you to write a poem about a landmark. It can be a famous landmark (like Mount Rushmore or the Sphinx) or a little more subdued (like the town water tower or an interesting sign)."

Things were a little tougher today, the prompt brought up all kinds of possibilities, almost too many to choose from. I had to narrow it down somehow, so I chose to concentrate on a Wyoming landmark. Something that isn't quite as famous as Devils Tower, but has all the wallop of a punch in the gut.

Driving around Wyoming, I've tried to imagine what it must have been like one hundred fifty years ago, when people were migrating across the land. Even travel by horseback gives you a very different perspective than driving in a car. The prairie seems to stretch out forever, and the horizon is so distant it's almost unfathomable. It's hard to think about walking across the state, as the people traveling the Oregon Trail did. Despite the companionship of your fellow emigrants, it must have seemed a lonely world. The closest I've come is to get out of the car and walk, to stand in the middle of the prairie, grass waving and wind whipping around my ears, no civilization in sight... it's as humbling as looking up into the vastness of a night sky. Throw in a few howling coyotes, and you start to get a picture of the past.

Parting of the Ways, Wyoming

It's not much. Wagon tracks carve a scar
through the heart of a sagebrush prairie,
an empty space in a state known for empty
spaces. Amidst the wide-open lonesome,
a pile of rocks, mounded like grave markers,
some chiseled with the names and dates
of those who passed on the Oregon Trail.
Dual ruts diverge—southwest, toward Fort
Bridger, or west, across the Sublette Cutoff,
fifty miles of waterless plain until
the promise. Even those that hated chance,
gambled here. On this spot, under distant
blue skies, on a day much like today, emigrant
decisions broke partners, eroded friendships,
split entire families between California
and Oregon. The division remains etched
on the land. Left or right, it was miles until
either party traveled out of sight of the other,
days before the pain of separation was forcibly
swallowed by the endless Wyoming horizon.


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