Conquest of Arid America
In Conquest of Arid America, William E. Smythe
wrote poetically about colonizing the desert,
The Nation reaches its hand into the Desert.
The barred doors of the sleeping empire are
flung wide open to the eager and the willing,
that they may enter in and claim their heritage!
Catrin Gersdorf writes about the1877 Desert Land Act
which sought to replace the masculine landscape with
one that could be feminized and
ready to make the desert bloom.
When God was about to create
the first human being,
then above and below,
all creatures began to tremble.
The spirit drove him west
on a conquest of arid America
for whom godlike whispers turn
demonic between pleasure and terror.
Writing himself onto the landscape,
the hinter edge in the
sand with a finger,
a thorn pulled, a river
tamed, definitive speech
sediment erodes in
A sign along the Grand Canyon tells you to
imagine you’re a pioneer on a horse
coming up to the canyon’s rim
gazing into the vastness,
feel the wind in your hair.
Aimless, absorbed by the sky,
the tourist gaze maps and kills,
names and maims, a grid pressed
onto ungriddable strata.
If the waves of the sea could flow in
and cover its barren nakedness,
wrote pioneer William L. Manly,
it would be indeed, a blessing.
For whom, the cheap nature of
holding your finger in the dike long enough for the
flood to recede, horse and driver, tossed, both,
into the sea, the surging waters standing like a wall.
About the dams on the Sacramento and Columbia river,
Floyd Dominy, Commissioner of Reclamation said
There isn’t any way to control the river without
having any tradeoffs, and the salmon,
unfortunately, was one of the tradeoffs.
Asked if it was worth it, he smiled,
I think it’s worth it, yes,
there are substitutes for eating salmon,
they can eat cake.
The face of the hydraulic aristocracy is reflected in
every drop of water that keeps miles of lawn grasses in
perpetually preadolescent botanical castrati.
Who needs fish when you can have
miles of neighbors glaring at each other while
watering a patch of grass in the desert?
Colorado Senator Thomas Patterson called
the federal development of rivers,
a great pacificator, better than a standing army,
because poor people, instead of causing
great social disturbances in great cities,
would go West to seek an irrigated farm.
A nomadic womb floats
in the land of the ‘just as it is’.
Skyskin, cancelled ground,
a Garden of Eden on Wheels,
as if pulled by a desert highway
or sucked forward by creating a
vacuum in front of it,pure speed,
aimless, shedding histories,
triumph of the surface
arid, stretched form, the
brain of time scooped out.
speed as pure object where
all objects appear as they are,
truth in its surface, the smiles
in a gas station, the desert horizon,
an ocean bed in the open air,
It effects without touching like
those pans whose surface gets so dry
that water droplets can’t even touch it.
Break the cities grammars of restraint with
the miracle of the transparency of
all functions in space.
For whom the miracle of easy living
in an unforgiving landscape,
lawns, ice, cubed squash,
mausoleum seats designed to
the anatomy of the womb are
they had to invent the speed
of prototype cars to cope with
the absolute horizontality.
There isn’t a sacrifice I can make that compares
to the eternity of a slow-motion catastrophe
that are the buttes at Monument Valley:
blocks of language rising high, their
pitiless erosion, ancient sedimentations
that owe their depth to wear.
Where meaning and morals are kept alive artificially
all I can do is laugh at the echo of my own erosion
swallowed by the remorseless horizon.
Kazim Ali talks about how
in fermented foods, rotting
takes us to the border of
appetite and death, a
potentially lethal preservation.
Objects project permanence, the body names and hoards
out of a fear of decay, defying decay evades capture,
maybe that’s why Americans say ‘cheese’
when photographed as if preparing an
idealized image for preservation.
An aging book produces poisonous chemicals whose
sweet smells of smoke, hints of almond, pressed
flowers, the sea, masks its annihilative powers,
Not unlike pasture land that masks the desert
in Frank Mackenzie’s painting,
Making the Desert Blossom.
The poem composed in the
act of its own decomposition
places us precariously on the edge
of the annihilative powers of silence.
After a treacherous expedition down the
Colorado River, John Wesley Powell wrote,
The canyon of Lodore was not devoid of scenic interest
even beyond the power of the pen to tell.
The travel guide issued in 1881 by the
Union and Central Pacific Railroads for
passengers bound to San Francisco reads
Board a train of silver palace cars in
the evening and will soon be whirling
away across the Great American Desert.
Fred Harvey, the Civilizer of the West, built luxurious
way-stations and Indian Detours for tourists meant to
simulate an authentic Native American experience by
having actors stage their lifestyle in the desert.
The Fred Harvey Company was sold to Amfac. Inc.
originally known as H. Hackfeld and Company which
was founded by J. C. Pflueger and his brother-in-law,
Heinrich Hackfeld, who later became the business agent for
the Old Sugar Mill of Kōloa, part of the first commercially successful
sugarcane plantation in Hawaiʻi where managers suggesting
Hawaiian’s have shown complete worthlessness as laborers
and described them as being so strongly
rooted in their cultural heritage that
centuries, at least, will intervene ere they will
understand that it is a part of their duty
to serve their masters faithfully.