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Magazine | Poetry

Hard Luck Okie

• By

Posted 08.06.12

This poem was recorded by the Library of Congress at a migrant farmer’s camp in California in the late 1930s. Before reading the poem, Turner says: “I started this poem in 1939, May the 4th, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and started to California.”

Reprinted courtesy of the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, Library of Congress, American Folklife Center.


In that dear state of Oklahoma
in the city where buildings are high
I laid on my pillow so hopeless
looking through my tin shack at the sky.

I got up early next morning
out in the cold I did creep
walked off without any breakfast
and left two hungry babies asleep

And then I left that big city,
I walked down 60 highway
I had a good reason for leaving
so I headed for Pacific Bay

Then I seen the Texas cotton
and the Mexico bottomless lakes
and the Arizona healy monster
and the big diamond rattle snakes

One night I heard the little coyotes,
I listened to their pitiful whine
I wondered if the poor little creatures
Didn’t have hungry babies like mine

That same night I dreamed of my father
he said boy don’t never go back
He said give them diamonds your part of that city
and that little old rusted tin shack

I started this poem in the desert
my bed lying out on the ground
Then covered up my hungry babies
and smoked a cigarette and laid down.

Then I picked peas in California
from two to six hampers a day
Trying to make a few pennies
to drive that old hungry away

Oklahoma farewell.