Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hunting pheasant

The South Dakota sun sat low, diffused,

and hung the sky in shrouds of brooding gray.

The wind sliced through my parka’s shell, my shirt,

my skin and pierced, it felt, my marrow. More

than that, it covered all the other sounds

with a howling sort of silence. The crops were in

-- we walked the barren fields for pheasant cocks –

and from toe of boots to line of sky, the rose

was bare. With stomping boots and raucous talk

we tried to scare the birds from furrow holds

behind cut stalks until forgotten prairie homes

appeared and made us stop.

....................................................I walked as if

among the graves of kin, with lighter step

and whispered words. The last to live here are now

long dead, but it’s not for them I show respect.

It’s more the loss of dreams they loved and way

of life they shared. It’s more the closeness to the earth,

the knowing your own hands to be enough.

A couple stood upon this piece of land

and said, “This is our home: It’s here we’ll have

our babies; here is where they’ll bury us.

This is our place on the turning sacred wheel.”

A flock took wing and flew to hide behind

the barn, but my eyes were fixed on the house’s eyes,

a wall of darkened panes staring back.

Upstairs, a tattered curtain is hanging still.

I knew the room was small – I guessed a child’s,

with flowered walls, a ceiling slope, perhaps

a toy remaining once the pox had gone.

As if a dream, I saw small hands

push back the drape, and a hopeful face

peer out. The porch roof sagged in slow decay,

but in its shade I saw them, Ma and Pa,

to share the evening breeze, so cool against

the day amid the summer’s fields. A dog,

a mongrel dog, with shaggy, matted coat,

rolls in the dirt out front to shake his fleas,

then sits up straight, its nose into the wind

to catch the scent of game. They pay the hound

no heed: their thoughts are for each other.

Together they work, together they love, and there

together they stay. They ask for nothing more.

This home has much to say, in a sort of song.

I wondered: Do the men who plow these fields

take pause to hear? I turned and stomped away.

I’ve long since left those hollow eyes,

but still they follow me. They always will.