Night shift on Rine #4 with three thousand feet of drill pipe
churning Oklahoma rock, the mud pump’s wheeze and suck,
hammer of warped deck plates beneath my boots as I gaze
from the rig’s north end upon treeless, dust-bowl no man’s land.
The moon slithers under clouds that go all sullen and spread
a great swath of indigo above the horizon, sinking to something
like the blue-black of threaded iron curling off a machine lathe.
Below, random bits of scarlet here and there bleeding through
a silver band of town lights ashen under dust and slung like
wire cloth over gas stations, bars, a doubleheader at the ball field,
workers’ homes on the outskirts and lost farms scattered just beyond,
where the big barn of my grandparents lifts into memory behind
the burnished clods of plowed fields. And so, five decades later deep
in the thrall of time’s continuum, here I stand among the Rothkos
in Houston, city of my birth, thinking of the lives that came before
in all their colors—bruised blue fingernails, hands and wrists
gray with grease, jeans streaked with red clay and road dirt—
and the lives that followed: my children, eyes brown or hazel, that peer
now into the darkening clouds of a mind drifting toward the far
horizon of colors, one upon another—kadosh, he might have said—
what the light gives back, and finally, what it doesn’t. Kadosh.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.