The muscular flank of winter
drifts as white as saddle sweat,
a lather worked from mile after free mile
at twenty below
can recall those bright slopes of alkali.
Acres were there for the taking,
so we took them. Every rotten inch.
But even scab prairie didn’t come easy.
Locals gave in; frontier stood fast,
choking out row after row of red potato.
That alkali, that friend to sage
and horsetail, jimson and pigweeds,
scalded all the nitrogen away
and did in its unfair share
of claims for a birthright.
We wagoned down and said home,
but that alkali did not budge one bit.
It cursed the West,
soured water in the well
and set the deed on fire.
Allen Braden is the author of A Wreath of Down and Drops of Blood and Elegy in the Passive Voice. He has received fellowships from the NEA and Artist Trust. A native of White Swan, Washington, he teaches at Tacoma Community College.