I would ask you to believe she is only flat
with wheat grass and canola flowers
dust bowl dry and hot in the summer
whipping cold in the winter, painful white.
You will make a liar out of me if you listen.
The sky is the only whole truth I’ve told you,
even that, badly. If I even speak about the valley,
river cutting tight along tree lines,
grass as fluid as the ocean, more deceptive,
just as deep, you will know the things I’ve hidden.
Jeweled fox backs and owl eyes, abandoned
silos like petrified giants, tractors and threshers
push out the fat bellied grouse, running forward
on their feet, chests out, under fences,
across the highway. The reservation dogs,
all lean muscle and teeth, big beautiful
half coyotes specked with blood-grey ticks
in the spring, who hang heavy in the fur
until the children pull them off to pop,
or they fall to the ground and splatter softly.
Barefoot boys play basketball outside
check each other as hard as they do
during hockey season, smelling always of ice.
Growing up with scars from the rink, scars
from broken bottles, and scabbed mosquito bites;
raised by a crush of women: mothers, aunts, kokum.
Outside the rez store kids suck on candy,
drink cokes, turn the inside of their mouths
a sweet, corpse grey, when all the colors blend.
Garter snakes push up from along foundations
sweet rotten musk left on the ground left behind.
Old men drink instant coffee and exhale
cigarette smoke into the darkness, so few windows
in the restaurant; hiding from the tiring sky.
All our prairie hearts made strong by dreams
that always come in the form of song.
No Great Animals
Giving the poet your story is like giving the goat your cabbage to keep.
My mother tells me about all the stillborn funerals my dad is doing lately
full-term babies in yellow blankets, edged in ribbon, cheap, fake satin.
What a vulture I am. Why can’t I finish a poem lately.
I am just rambling, meandering
There is too much room out here, or I have too many things
to say and no room to lay them out to look at. Rolling hills just tumble
back at me and I roll them over my body, smoothing the edges.
Let me go back to the prairie where things get hard and brittle,
where the water is so soft
The soap never comes off; there is so much fluoride in the water.
Let me go back and show you: even the poor have strong teeth.
Let me go follow packs of reservation dogs who meander in the ditch like the rivers.
Nothing flows straight there, there’s too much room to move around in
only the roads lay out flat and straight, a mistake the wind keeps trying to smudge out
with a thick, calloused thumb, or a worn bald tire. All the chugging little engines rusting
from underneath their bellies.
When I was twelve I wrote a poem about the buffalo dying
train tracks and muskets and blood in the dirt, great fallen things under a great sky
some cliched shit. I am trying to let go of the idea that anything dying
is cliched shit. I am trying to watch the skinny, low-backed foxes move through the
and disturb the birds.
When we go back, I will show you. There are no great animals
on the prairie, anymore.
—Sara Judy, Concord, NH