The less rain the more tumbleweeds
break loose from the fields
during December wind, roll the road
like a mass migration of animals,
pile up against the fences,
sacrificing themselves so those
who follow can bounce on over
and keep moving until they reach
the eaves of proper houses out there
on the edges of those little towns
where inside the elevator owner
prays for at least a sprinkle
to keep the winter wheat green.
—Randy Phillis Plots We Can’t Keep Up With
Somewhere in a box sitting at the back of a closet is a photo that goes with this poem—an old black and white with curled edges. You can’t tell from the picture, but the little ranch house on Fairview Street with two elms in the front yard is painted green. On the north side of the house in a shady flower bed next to the fence a few tiger lilies, planted by the former owner, bloom each summer. Next door, just a few feet further north, Mr. Farrell, tends to his tomato plants and uses his shovel to kill the fat green worms that eat the leaves.
But the photo was taken in the late winter or early spring before the lilies have poked their heads out and the space is filled with tumbleweeds, piled against the fence—stacked so high that they have spilled over into the backyard, surrounding the clothesline poles and swing set. The invasion turns into an adventure once the wind stops blowing and Dad corrals the wayward weeds in a wire cage, set up in the alley, and lights a match.
It was the late sixties and two kids who had yet to meet would both remember those tumbleweeds years later. She would look up the Latin name (Salsola tragus) and discover the story of immigrants who, inadvertently, carried the Russian thistle seeds with them to the Midwest. He would write a poem. Two different paths to the same memory.