Badlands is a 1973 American crime drama written, produced and directed by Terrence Malick, starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Warren Oates. The story is fictional, but inspired by the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, in 1958. In the film, fifteen-year-old Holly Sargis lives in South Dakota with her father, a sign painter and widower who has strong opinions on Holly’s interactions with the boys in town. When Holly meets Kit Carruthers, a twenty-five year old greaser who works as a garbageman, she falls head over heels, much to her father’s chagrin. After Holly's father kills her dog as punishment for spending time with Kit, Kit breaks into Holly’s house and demands she run away with him. When her father protests, Kit kills him and the couple cover their tracks and flee to the badlands of Montana. Then ensues their life of crime together on a mission to escape police pursuit, which Holly is not so much complicit in as captive to. The following poems are written from the position of Holly after she has turned herself in.
I had a feeling today was gonna be the day
In the psychological hours
when blocks of light
& river crash down
between twin stone faces
It’s so wonderfully tragic
as the disco of our union
rattles through the canyon
Though I can’t imagine
the fear you must feel
losing it all.
You waltzed into my life
a seething incident
with hands full of cipher.
A convergence of selves
interrupts the desert’s loneliness –
Rock towers thrust up
from the desert floor.
A river is our dirtiest enhancement
slamming saloon doors
across our youth & repetition.
Eileen tells me a tumbleweed
is not any specific plant,
but anything that tumbles.
I have to be very sure where I am
inside my knowing you might die.
The doors of perception
are turning me to stone.
Huge oysters and petrified trees
exhibit the drama of the canyon
as it came into being – shaken down,
turned over, blown up, & set on fire.
Fugitives & prisoners take sanctuary in its thickets
tree-clad peaks & beds of ocotillo flowers.
Here’s the scene where I kiss you
as the coyotes take their census.
I consider the joy a nest of loons supplies.
as noon smudges into place.
The railroad & paved highway
form the bowstring & northern boundary
while the patient river
bends many times beneath the eye.
Vertebrae of speech bolster the air.
Something inhuman locks into place
in a moment of broken brush.
In moments of hesitation, I tell myself
to expect is to limit
the wingspan of the not-yet-here.
In the dream, rattlers,
scorpions adorn the carpet
of my parents’ dressing room.
I wake to know you
guilty of my waking pain.
The parade of stars
shimmers out on the Rio Grande
as gar rush the stream.
Around me, oaks, pinyon pines
& junipers occur. Granite outcrops
& limestone on the plain.
The shim of your ambivalence –
These crude calculations keep you alive
with those burials on your hands.
Smacked out on resurrection fern
the view is worth all it costs.
Each day I bear your death –
its possibility & methods of cruelty
bloom all over me,
the year having dispensed
with friends & loved ones.
My fortune: having been so lucky as to escape
the sharp confines of our lovingness.
The rains it raineth differently
in a stand of quaking aspen
out on Emory Peak.
Down in this phosphorous night
I had only the dawn to rein me in.
Desert weathering emphasizes the grotesque –
giant fish buried under talus slopes
a jumbled mass of marine & lake deposit
canned laughter in the pleached trees.
Oases may occur in the riparian zone
jammed between two collapsed persuasions.
When he died, he donated his body to science
without a girl to scream out his name.
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