Stephen Barile

Ghosts of Tulare Lake

Desert Landscape by George Copeland Ault

a hot black street in Corcoran

the skyline: 12 grain silos ten-stories high

empty-handed, dusty town

vacant lots and weed fields

telephone poles with broken wire

vacant store-fronts, a Mexican bakery

a clothing store selling work-wear

empty caverns, each one.

The ditch-company office stays open
behind venetian blinds in afternoon heat

and the clock stopped at the Super Mercado.
The road west, Whitley Avenue

–to the ancient lakebed,
a flat expanse of tilled soil

the outline of silos and barns
against a vague horizon,
of long wide canals and large dikes
that hold back the Kings River–

in a  place where ghosts reside
among other ghosts in ghostly pale

tule reeds, fog, and clear waters,
a freshwater lake fringed
in mosquito swamp and alkali flat

brown parts, shimmering blue in others,
so wide there appears to be no end
but the backdrop of coastal mountains

that curb the western shore,
the waterfowl, and migratory birds
in numbers that obliterate the sun.

The first-people, their demise;
Tache medicine-man and rainmaker
in retaliation, raises spirits

a swirling water-spout
across a white-capped lake,
heavy winds of the shallow inland sea.

With magic stones and milkweed strings
tied to tail-feathers of red-tailed hawks;
The creator animals, the coyote and bear;
birds, the eagle, swiftly-swooping falcon
the condor, and the owl;

The ghost of a drunken farmer,
headlights of his Cadillac in a ditch underwater
south of the El Rico Levee;

The ghosts of D-7 Caterpillar-tractor
crawling, armed with wheel-scrappers

and multi-shanked rippers,
to supplant the Euclid TC-12 ghost in the machine,

suck irrigation water from mighty canals,
keep the once-pristine lakebed dry,
make the tributaries run backward.


About the writer:
Stephen Barile lives in Fresno California. He is a long-time member of the Fresno Poet’s Association. Barile’s poems have been published extensively in several print and online publications.

Image: Desert Landscape by George Copeland Ault (1891-1948). Oil on canvas. 71.5 x 46 cm. 1941. Public domain.