Uprising at Malheur Wildlife Refuge

In January 2016,  heavily armed protestors took over the Malheur wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon. The were protesting the  government treatment of ranchers who broke federal law and the basic idea of publicly owned land.

A brothel sits in a painted desert
at the end of a long smudge of county road.
Pickup trucks surround it like the
hungry nursing children of Kali.

What memories cannot be contained there stick out,
running down the sides of the concrete block building,
across the road and out of the painted day.

The cordite smell of heat lightning mixes
with the red clay dust of the road
stirred by an occasional smattering of rain.

Overhead, sky horses pull
their rough furrows to the horizon
as the first Canada geese of spring take them in stride.

Below, at the wildlife refuge,
a bloom of deadly narcissus 
makes a stand against all Spring storms
with guns and loud lamentation

while geese and owls,
return to make their living
in the green shoots of cheatgrass
and the slow ways of newborn field mice.

5 responses to “Uprising at Malheur Wildlife Refuge

  1. Melissa Shaw-Smith

    What great imagery–a vivid picture!


  2. Reading this here in England, the background to this poem eludes me, but I find the description of place and mood to be most vivid and magnetic. Something about the subject matter reminds me of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, but it is not derivative of course. Well done Burl!


    • Thanks John. Steinbeck is one of my literary heroes. If some influence of his shines through, I’m honored. I’ve added an introductory note to the poem for context (below.) You have given me an idea though. Perhaps this needs to be expanded into a short story.

      “In January 2016, a heavily armed protestors took over the Malheur wildlife refuge in south eastern Oregon. The were protesting the government treatment of ranchers who broke federal law and the basic idea of publicly owned land.”


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