Weekly Poem: ‘Meditation at the County Landfill’



By Eric Gudas

All over fat gulls lunge
and swerve to forage in the mounds
of trash, their ruffled wings

and bellies cement gray,
their screeches mixed with dozers’ scraping
groans and the garbage trucks’

harsh grind. The window down,
I breathe a burning mayonnaise smell
that scorches my nose and mouth:

a stink denser than air
and clogged with grit. This place looks
like a field where clumps of garbage

grow, these gloved men breathing through
dust masks its harvesters; “Park over here,”
one in sunglasses shouts

above the wind. I’ve come
to unload a rented house’s junk —
at least ten years of things

that other people left
behind: a television, screen smashed
in to show its metal brain-stem wrapped

in multicolored wires; thick stacks
of mold-sheathed newspapers;
a roofless dollhouse. “Just dump it

there,” barks a guy in overalls
when I ask what to do with all
this stuff. A quarter-mile away

there’s a precipice: what for?
And then I see far off, a dozer
scooping up compacted

heaps and hurling them
below: so this is the place
debris is shoveled

underground to rot
until the end of time
(unless time’s already

ended here). Barehanded,
I hurl these wet, grimed,
viscid chunks,

of someone else’s life onto
the reeking earth, startled
at the way this ruin

pleases me: as my sweat mixes
with the rising chalky
slime, I wade waist-high

through mounds that by
tomorrow will lie shoved
beneath a ground that has

no choice — it must accept
this offering. “Keep it coming,
man!” the masked face roars.


Eric Gudas’ poems, book reviews and interviews have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, the Iowa Review, Poetry Flash, the Southern Review and other journals. His book, “Best Western and Other Poems,” winner of the 2008 Gerald Cable Book Award, was published in 2010 by Silverfish Review Press. He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles, where he is completing a book about contemporary American poet Eleanor Ross Taylor.

The video above was filmed at AWP’s 2011 Conference & Bookfair in Washington, D.C. Special thanks to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

Camera and audio work by the NewsHour’s Crispin Lopez and Kiran Moodley.