Poet's corner: California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia writes about land in drought

Editor's Note: In Poet's Corner, Sonoma County Poet Laureate Iris Jamahl Dunkle will introduce local poems and provide a place where poetry can be publicly discussed. It will appear biweekly on the Press Democrat's Sunday Books page.

In his poem, “California Hills in August,” California's new Poet Laureate and longtime Santa Rosa resident Dana Gioia captures what it means to love the land that surrounds us, even when it appears lifeless, burnt and dry.

These days, with rainfall steady and reservoirs rising, the rolling hills of Sonoma County have become vibrant and green again, but no matter how much rain we receive this winter, in August the hills will again turn golden.

To an outsider, the summer landscape of Sonoma County in summer can seem almost unbearable. But to a Californian who has experienced a drought such as the one we've been experiencing for the past four years, such a landscape is very much alive.

California Hills in August

I can imagine someone who found

these fields unbearable, who climbed

the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,

cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,

wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner, especially, who would scorn

the meagerness of summer, the dry

twisted shapes of black elm,

scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape

August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging

thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,

knowing everything was just a weed,

unable to conceive that these trees

and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon

without wind, without motion,

the only other living thing

a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended

in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone

raised in a landscape short of rain –

the skyline of a hill broken by no more

trees than one can count, the grass,

the empty sky, the wish for water.

Iris Jamahl Dunkle is Sonoma County's Poet Laureate.

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