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California Hills in August

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion,
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain –
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

— Dana Gioia

“California Hills in August” by Dana Gioia from Daily Horoscope.

Graywolf Press, 1986.

By permission of the author.

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia (1950- ) was born in Los Angeles and educated at Stanford and Harvard Universities. He is the author of four poetry collections and three books of criticism, as well as editor of numerous literary anthologies and translations. The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia is currently the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California. Photo Credit: Lynda Koolish.

Learn more about Dana Gioia at The Poetry Foundation