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A Silent Country Song



Menlo School, ’16
2016 Adroit Prize for Poetry: Honorable Mention

Some hills by Los Banos slump
into the palms of farms. One dale
shades a barn house, a comfort to its animals
within it and without. Dominion of men
has seeped into even this pinched fingerprint of a valley.
A tin tank on the road sounds off.

The hills, abraded into shape, slope
like the talons of a trained eagle:
flushed yellow slopes
faintly ridged like a fingernail,
or feathers folded neatly.
They would unhook from the earth,
would they cease dipping into San Luis Reservoir’s bowl.
The tin tank sounds off — a delivery truck nears.

A hill had a piano beneath it, once,
where a farm girl too young to wait
bars or splash reservoir water at boys at night
had played the summers Brahms’ dances
solo, the hulking hill’s shade her lone accompaniment.
The truck’s tank nears — a sulfur smell.

The hill started the cycle of days
for her, Ma and Pa left with the dawn, songs
that swam like soil from fingers to ground,
that ran down her half-rests, wanting to swell
out of the hill’s arched, monkey-claw pose. Repetition
of scales: these were the seasons.
The smell over latent gas rides in.

Pa rode the crest of harvest, sold propane,
scaling across the reservoir to towns, his bank account
unbalanced, all for the girl as she bubbled
and grew into her own shapes and her shadows.
A TV over the piano, hot water, more gas for the night.
Into his callouses went the dark evenings,
out of the valley came electric images of sound.

When the old man didn’t drive home,
she had her shows, her boys.
The gaps in the hills gather pauses into a song,
quiet nature’s finale, a rondo
like a wing’s shadow over a bronco
before the boy takes the saddle.
Silent cymbals crash, gas blasts,
the whole valley in ash, and repeat.

Scott Stevens is a poet and fiction writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, and has been published in literary magazines such as Textploit and Glass Kite Anthology. He is a recognized California Arts Scholar, has attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio at the University of Iowa, and has received distinction in the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.