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California Hills in August
Dana Gioia


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.

From Daily Horoscope (Graywolf, 1986)
Used with the author’s permission.



Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed poet and critic. Author of three full-length collections of poetry, including Interrogations at Noon (2001), which won the American Book Award, and three collections of criticism, most notably Can Poetry Matter? (1992), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award. Dana has edited or co-edited over two dozen collections of poetry, fiction, and drama. He has also written two opera libretti and has collaborated with composers in genres ranging from classical to jazz and rock. For six years (2003-2009) Dana served as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, where he helped launch the largest literary programs in federal history, including The Big Read, Poetry Out Loud, and Shakespeare in American Communities. He subsequently spent two years directing the arts and culture programs for the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. and Colorado. Currently, Dana serves as the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Sonoma County, California. Learn more about Dana at



Post New Comment:
wendy morton:
Dana knows that everything is not just a weed and sees the world with a spare, fine eye.
Posted 08/21/2011 10:45 AM
Gioia's imagining an obdurate, unsympathetic antagonist works well. "One who would hurry over . . . / And hate the bright stillness of the noon / without wind, without motion. /" This construction allows the poet to capture the narrator's love of the arid landscape with reserved, muted praise.
Posted 08/21/2011 09:55 AM
The imagery of this poem is brilliant. I am carried to this place so completely that the last line hit me like a rock slide. Very powerful!
Posted 08/21/2011 08:09 AM

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