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Time Between Hours: Finalist for Spiritual Poetry, Southwest Writers

For three days and three nights, the wind did not blow. I did not dream,
but listened to coyotes singing off-key in the cattail reeds and cornfields.
The wind has gone out of the farm because Dad isn’t here, you said.  Still,
on the day of the funeral, a breeze like a faint exhale came over the slough,
bending around the corners of the farmstead, pushing dense heat through our lungs,
until our muscles ached with longing.

 

The first few days after your father’s death, the details hung in the air like humidity.
Hymns.  Scripture.  Flowers.  The suit.  Death keeps you busy.  There was no time
to look at photographs of him clutching dead pheasants, their marble eyes staring
absently into blue sky.  No time to consider the smell of grain dust in the air at twilight
or the reasons why it is good for the earth to lie fallow, to rest sometimes.

 

But later…
…time between hours lengthened…and there was more time to talk about combining
at midnight when you and your brother watched Sputnik satellites and B52s making
patterns in the prairie sky.  More time for stories about prairie blizzards and hunting
feasts, arrowheads dug out of dry earth,and your father’s memory of seeing bands of
Lakota crossing the horizon.  There was more time to smile at the way he once stood,
one hand in his pressed Levis, the other, low on his sweetheart’s waist
as if it were their first date, not a 50th anniversary…

 

…and still, there would be more time…
more time for the stain of red wine
and the precious taste of a fresh grief to settle
on our lips.

 

South Dakota prairie vista

Prairie Whispers

There was a prairie in your past. The glow of a dashboard in an old Buick, the ping, ping of gravel jumping under tire rims. There were bonfires and kegs and midnight visits to the horses, their bodies, a black stain against the midnight. There were back seats with fumbling hands, Elton John, coarse dry wind, and the sound of 4-wheelers filling your head. With the smell of stinkweed and lilac, in your past, you threw hay bales over your shoulder with your pitchfork, scraping mud off your boots with a stick. There was a low creek and the redbreast of a pheasant leaping from the brittle corn; jeans ripped from barbed wire, the smell of hot coffee, and polished leather.

But you left the prairie.

Later, when your heart stumbled, you heard a faint voice in your head – go to the prairie. Get in your car and drive until you can taste pine and black earth on your lips. You listened for once and drove west on the single interstate. There were train cars stacked with black coal and a gray sky pressing down on wheat fields. There was a green tractor winding backward and forwards across the earth. A truck followed behind, its mouth open and ready like a baby bird, ready for the harvested grain that fell like water into its steel beak.

Slowly, the smell of pine and lilac came back to you, first like a terrible stench but later like the strange scent of salvation. You learned to scrape your boots again and heave hay bales. You tried concentrating on the smell of hot coffee at dawn and polished the saddles with a terrible urgency until one day when your boots were so worn, any other pair of shoes made your feet ache, the smell of stinkweed made you weep. Remember these details: the sound of your boots on crushed gravel, the last humming of crickets before daybreak, and the aching chill moving through your denim jacket before the heat sets in for the day.

The morning of your last ride, the one you still hold onto like a precious photograph, Billy told you what he knew: “When you came here, you were sick. I don’t know what made you sick, but you were sick. The lies we tell ourselves never fill the holes inside us. I think you will be alright, but be gentle with your heart.

Deep in the months of a prairie winter, you still remember how Billy believed in your own redemption long before you did, a redemption only the prairie of your past could offer.