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"California Hills in August" and "Progress Report"

Dana Gioia
  • Dana Gioia

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.

Progress Report

  • It’s time to admit that I’m irresponsible.
  • I lack ambition. I get nothing done.
  • I spend the morning walking up the fire road.
  • I know every tree along the ridge.
  • Reaching the end, I turn around. There’s no point
  • to my pilgrimage except the coming and the going.
  • Then I sit and listen to the woodpecker
  • tapping away. He works too hard.
  • Tonight I will go out to watch the moon rise.
  • If only I could move that slowly.
  • I have no plans. No one visits me.
  • No need to change my clothes.
  • What a blessing just to sit still —
  • a luxury only the lazy can afford.
  • Let the dusk settle on my desk.
  • No one needs to hear from me today.

Poet Dana Gioia served as the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts for six years. His book Can Poetry Matter? is considered a classic of contemporary criticism. Winner of the American Book Award and the Aiken-Taylor Prize, Gioia teaches each fall at the University of Southern California. His fourth and latest volume of poems, Pity the Beautiful, was published in 2012, and “California Hills in August” is taken from his first volume, Daily Horoscope (1986).

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