Poet’s Notebook: Post Thanksgiving, my poem: “Hungry mother, hungry land” and reflection

Hungry mother, hungry land

The fires are not here,
they are in the southwest
in Tennessee.
Forests burning.
We went for a walk by the reservoir.
The great spillway, like a highway for water
was dry as a bone.
Drought in the land,
wells drying up,
but don’t worry about the fires spreading here.
(Someone expressed concern
because the air is thick like in a city
with vagrant smoke.)
We walk together and apart
at different speeds,
the young not slowing on the hills,
the old dropping back.
We gather at the views
letting grandpa catch his breath.
The reservoir is 6 miles around;
we are only walking 2.
What kind of duck is that?
Did you hear that splash over there?

That mountain is called Hungry Mother.
Hungry Mother Mountain.
The story goes:
the Indians chased a mother and daughter
to the top of the mountain.
They got lost and separated.
The girl found her way down
and was caught by the Indians.
Maybe they gave her some food.
She pointed to the mountain:
“Hungry mother” she said.
Two hundred years later I say,
Hungry land.


We drove down from Vermont for Thanksgiving, two days drive, to be with my wife’s family in Marion, Virginia. (Stopped over near Philly to visit my brother and his wife.) Wonderful to get together. Wish my son (in Oregon) could have been here. This poem takes some poetic license. “Grandpa” is my wife’s father. In the poem he is the generic grandfather. In real life he is in remarkable shape for someone his age. The story about Hungry Mother Mountain is supposedly factual, but when I heard it, as summarized by my step daughter, it didn’t sound quite right, but it was all I needed to frame this poem because the reservoir we were walking around felt somehow maternal to me in that it was a body of water that was providing to the people in the valley below the parched spillway, which was quite massive. I felt the feminine nature of the land and I sensed how it / “she” was hurting. And then there was the air, which was tainted by the smoke from fires in Tennessee. So I took the local legend, which sounded a bit far-fetched, and used it as a way to express my empathy for the land’s suffering. While we were feasting and giving thanks, the land seemed to be hungry.


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