Jeff Fearnside

Writer

Lake

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The town’s big bazaar is really two bazaars:

Verkhnii, the oldest, a sentinel on the hill

since the days of Stalin, some say,

all the way back to the ’30s, when Kazakhstanis died

by the millions in a land of plenty,

forced to farm what they had wandered

since before the Silk Road.

 

The newer, lower bazaar is called Ozero—Lake—

for until a few years ago, shallow water stood

where rusty tin roofs and blue and white tarpaulins

stretch now in a defiant but futile attempt

to provide shade from the Shymkent sun.

Nothing should grow in this semi-arid desert

except wormwood, shepherd’s bag, and camel’s thorn,

but it’s hard to sell those at market.

 

The Syr Darya was called Yaksart centuries ago

when it was first plumbed, primed, and pumped

to feed the canals that fed the fields,

but the Soviets wanted more than to feed

the people. They wanted cheap clothes.

Now the thirsty mouths of cotton

suck the Celestial Mountains’ glaciers dry

while hundreds of kilometers downstream

the Aral Sea vanishes before everyone’s eyes.

It’s no trick. It’s simple science

and poetry: ships now ride the sand

hours from the rapidly receding shore.

There’s hardly enough left to fish for metaphors.

 

 

This poem may be read in its entirety in my chapbook Lake, and Other Poems of Love in a Foreign Land, winner of the Standing Rock Cultural Arts 2010 Open Poetry Chapbook Competition, available for order here!

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