The wind then, through seams of bluestem,
or switchgrass swayed by a coyote’s passing.
Where the fabric gapes, Barthes said,
lies the sensual. A prairie cut
by winding seeps, or winds or shearing wings.
Mare’s tails, mackerels, cirrus,
distance dispersed as light. Under a buzzard’s bank
and spiral the prairie folds and unfolds.
Here between the stands of bluestem, I am interruption.
I rake my fingers over culms and panicles.
Here seeds burr into my sleeves, spur each hem.
In a prairie, I am chance. I am rupture. The wind—
thief, ruffian, quick-fingered sky, snatches a kink
of my hair. The broken nap falls, wound round
like a prairie snake, a coil of barbed wire, a snare
for the unwary. In the fall, volunteer naturalists
will wrench invading roots and scour grassy densities
with fire. Wick, knot, gnarl, my kindled hair
will flare, burn, soften into ash, ash that will settle,
sieve through soil, compost for roots to suck
and worms to cast out, out into the loess that raises
redtop, turkeyfoot, sideoats grama,
and all the darkened progenies of grass
that reach and strive and shape dissent from light.
Copyright © 2018 by Janice N. Harrington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“‘Burn’ re-imagines the sensuality of the prairie, including the reconstructed prairie, and the possibilities of an individual Black life.”
—Janice N. Harrington
Janice N. Harrington
Janice N. Harrington’s most recent book of poetry is Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin (BOA Editions, 2016). A Guggenheim Fellow, she teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois and lives in Champaign, Illinois.
Date Published: 2018-07-26
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/burn-1