A Thanksgiving Day Poem

Paging through an old book of poetry this afternoon, I came across this poem by North Dakota poet Paul Southworth Bliss, from “Poems of Places.” The poems in the book were written as Bliss traveled the country in 1937. This one came from a stop in Oklahoma, which got oil a long time before North Dakota, but the similarities are striking, 80 years apart. Even the name Continental, although it is not the Continental of Harold Hamm, but rather the company founded in 1875 whose name is now Conoco. You can read its history here. And yes, the Canadian River could be our Little Missouri, with its green banks, and flowers, and clear water. In 1937, the poet captured the feelings many of us in North Dakota have today. Thank you for this, Paul Southworth Bliss.

PIECE OF THE EARTH

By Paul Southworth Bliss

I own

A piece of the earth,

Four-thousand miles deep—

And a half acre

Showin’ to the sky.

It’s mine . . .

Each time the walkin’ beam

Goes up and down

I am richer—poorer.

 

Up comes the black oil . . .

Cloyd (he works for Continental)

He just sits there

And listens,

Listens—that’s all,

Listenin’ for somethin’ goin’ wrong

For $147.50 a month;

If the engine stops

Or the rod breaks

Then he has to get up.

One, two

One, two

One, two

One, two

The rod is long—

6,547 feet!

It’s a needle

Lancin’ the rich black

Pus of the earth . . .

 

Some day

The wound will heal

The walkin’ beam will stop

And I won’t git

My $11 a day any more . . .

My $11 a day,

For just lettin’ ‘em

Stick that needle

A mile long

Down into my earth . . .

‘Til it goes dry . . .

Let ‘em all go dry . . .

Then, maybe it’ll be like it was . . .

 

Like it was

When there weren’t no derricks

And no stink of oil

And no earth black with sludge.

I used to sit

On the bank of the Canadian—

That’s where it flowed,

Right there—

The bank was green

And the flowers grew

And you could fish in bright water . . .

And now

There’s a forest of derricks

And the walkin’ beams

A-goin’

All day and all night—

And the smell of oil—

And they turned the stream away . . .

It don’t run here any more.

 

I hope the walkin’ beam stops

I hope they all stop—

Then maybe

After a while

It’ll be like it was . . .

When the Canadian

Ran clear,

By this same little shack,

And I didn’t get $11 a day—

That I don’t know what to

Do with . . .

God Almighty . . .

It won’t bring back

The green bank

And the flowers

And the clear water . . .

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