69. Dust Bowl Diary, 1935

Silt on the dishes.

Rags under the doors.

Horizon coppered by clouds of dirt.

The sun, a dim smear.

No stars, no moon for weeks.

No shadows.


Our farm is sifting away –

only a bit of cornfield stubble

poking up through shifting dunes,

cedars chalked with fine dust,

half-buried fence posts.


Cattle are dying,

their lungs caked with mud.

Others, blinded by blowing grit,

stumble in brown blizzards.


Once my hair shone like corn silk

under the sun. Now it’s dull, dry,

wrapped tight in a bun.


After a while, everything

seems the color of vermin,

the color of moths –

dirty wash pinned to

the clothesline,

damp dishcloths

stretched along windowsills.


This spring, no lilacs;

no luster left in Mother’s eyes.


I’ve forgotten the true

colors of things. Even the sky

turns eerie shades I’ve never seen.


Tonight, before sleep,

I’ll lie still

on dusty sheets,

close my swollen eyelids,

and pray for vivid dreams.

— Kathleen Johnson


from Burn, Woodley Press, 2008

Kathleen Johnson is the editor and publisher of New Mexico Poetry Review. She received her BFA in history of art and MFA in creative writing from the University of Kansas.  As a freelance book critic specializing in poetry, she published over sixty book reviews in The Kansas City Star and other publications between 2002 and 2009. Her collection of poems Burn, published by Woodley Press in 2008, was selected as a 2009 Kansas Notable Book.  A fifth-generation New Mexican, she has divided her time between Kansas and New Mexico for many years. She became a full-time resident of Santa Fe in 2009.


2 thoughts on “69. Dust Bowl Diary, 1935

  1. “Our farm is silting away….no lilacs….I’ve forgotten the true color of things.”
    Anyone witnessing these dustbowl days will relate. Very nice.

  2. Actual footage from the Great Depression era suggests that this poem accurately captures what people were dealing with on a day to day basis. A strong effort on the part of the poet..

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