Radio Readers BookByte - A Poetic Look At Black Sunday

Jan 17, 2020

Credit Kansas Memory / Kansas Historical Society

I’m Eric Meljac from West Texas A&M University for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

Poet Benjamin Myers’ moving collection Black Sunday chronicles the Dust Bowl from the points-of-view of those who experienced it first-hand––those trapped in the plains with the dust burying them as it rained down from the skies.

Of note is a particular poem, “Henry Reflects on the Dust Reaching Washington D.C.”

This bit of verse serves as a glimpse about what hearing news, by radio or otherwise, from the nation’s capital really means to those suffering from the effects of one of the nation’s most crippling disasters. The poem begins with Henry noting, “Today I heard the dust done reached the dome / back east, the one them senators sit under / debating how to stop our home sweet home / from blowing up their nose.”

Such a notion, that those under the dark cloud of the Dust Bowl hear that the nation’s leaders only worry about those in the plains once the capital is touched by dust is Myers’ perfect capture of the helplessness and hopelessness of those trapped and strapped by something the elected can’t nearly understand––total devastation.

In a brilliant stroke, Myers’ poem serves as a reminder that, during the Dust Bowl, the connection to the news, broadcast to those under the cloud, was at best simply laughable. Those governing the nation simply did not understand the suffering of their own people.

As Henry says at the end of the poem, “But by the time our dirt has smudged their shiny shoes / we’ll all be buried here and last week’s news.” This is a sobering notion. What one who suffers hears is simply the disconnect, the failure to be understood, and ultimately the irrevocable loss and hopelessness felt when the governing only care about anything at all when they themselves are affected, while those who are governed find themselves ankle-deep in tragedy.

Henry Reflects on the Dust Reaching Washington D.C.

Today I heard the dust done reached the dome

back east, the one them senators sit under

debating how to stop our home sweet home

from blowing up their nose. It makes me wonder

how much of here will have to end up there––

how high the dust will climb them marble steps––

before the suited ones decide they care.

Don’t know about them senators and reps

but this here post where I be leaning knows

we’re halfway there and past already now

when every puffed up gust of wind that blows

turns up more earth than any tractor plow.

But by the time our dirt has smudged their shiny shoes

we’ll all be buried here and last week’s news.

“Henry Reflects on the Dust Reaching Washington D.C.” from Black Sunday: Poems by Benjamin Myers, courtesy of Lamar University Literary Press. Used with permission of the author.