Classic and Contemporary Poetry
PIONEER: THE VIGNETTE OF AN OIL-FIELD, by LEXIE DEAN ROBERTSON Poet's Biography
First Line: All day the wagons have gone by
Last Line: With church bells quietly ringing!
Subject(s): Oil Fields; Pioneers
ALL day the wagons have gone by
In a great cloud of dust on the highway.
The horses plodding with down-hung heads,
The harness clanking dully,
Or sometimes jingling with little bells.
The drivers sit immobile on the great iron pipes
Like stolid images dressed in coarse cottons
With dusty hats pulled low, shading dull unseeing eyes.
A wheel jolts cruelly in a deep rut,
The dust swirls in a choking fog,
But the driver sits unmoved, staring ahead.
All day the wagons pass in a long dust-enveloped line.
Sunset with the derricks standing stark
Against the skyline.
Grim sentinels, black and cruel,
Against the golden splendor of the west.
Row upon row they stand,
Scarring the soft bosom of the prairie,
Silhouettes of wealth and toil and service,
Stark against the scarlet glory of the skyline.
At night the rough unpainted shacks are crowded
With a pushing, jostling, coarse humanity,
Eager to spend.
The gambling hall is brilliant with mirrored lights.
The plank floors creak beneath the muddy-booted feet;
An officer of the law leans against the door
And hears the click of the dice, the whir of the wheel,
Painted women, nakedly dressed, eye every man
From under half-closed purple-tinted lids.
In a drug store a reeling loafer drinks raw gin
Handed boldly across the counter.
The blare of a saxophone
Syncopates through the open window of a dance hall.
The people surge through the streets pushing each other,
Hurrying from one plank shack to another,
Eager to spend.
In the moonlight between neglected rows of cotton
Waits a throng with silent listening.
The derrick, its raw newness glistening in the moonshine,
Stands aloof and unconcerned.
Thousands of feet beneath the cotton roots
Sounds a faint whispering....
Something released from its dark prison
Is making its way skyward.
Gathering force it deepens into a grumbling roar.
Suddenly straight to the white moon
Shoots a mighty column of flowing gold.
It towers poised for an instant,
Then bursts into a shower of yellow globules
That tumble back upon the earth who sent them forth.
It is all over in a moment,
The derrick stands blackly dripping,
The people laugh and clap each other on the shoulder,
Thinking only of dollars.
It is Sunday, but the town toils on unknowing.
The smell of crude oil hovers like a tainted pall
Over all the rough unpainted shacks.
The wagons lumber through the streets
With loads of clanking pipe;
The drill bites on unceasingly into the deep hot earth;
The stores ply their daily trade
With apples and with dusty purple grapes set out in front.
From the Hotel Gladys painted girls dash out
Returning later some are not alone.
There is no Sabbath quiet in all the town
Excepting only in the weedgrown graveyard
Where the dead lie waiting,
And even there the evil smell of crude oil lingers.
Oh, for a town of little homes
With church bells quietly ringing!
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