Tracy Zeman Star or Plow

Inside the longhouse the dead are arranged

according to rank corrupt bodies

shrouded in animal skins

dog teeth potsherds cut wood

stacked along the outer walls

as women collect the bones of their kin

For the charnel housebows arrows tobacco

a bear pawa turtle effigy pipe

a fledged sparrow rubbing its neck

on a hackberry brancha mask of seashells

finding its way west by trade

a buffalo jumpa new blind flood

Shattering the Clovis & leaving a mark

in the black mat running through layers of strata

after water filled the land

horsecameldire wolfbison antiquus

extinct or expatriated“that phraseless melody”

perhaps in the rediscovery one you will be found

One “shiverer round the door”


Unearthed in the black court

that line in the rock for ice & empty

for star then plowthe sure-to-come

is never close enough

to unsettle the edge of the human landscape

a narrow tract of grass along the highway

Black-eyed Susans blazing stars

& cattails in the mediansalong the railroad

a biologist discovers a rare wingless grasshopper

keyacris scurra in the kangaroo grass

Jefferson’s enumerators sent west to populate

his drawing roomhis science of specimen & capture

Of geometry democracy steel steam

seed & theftfor the good of us all

for the good of shining persons

with hearts all one stonea country bird

heels to law & needa country boy

locks the plains in a grid

We are all freeholders still


This alienated posturewe went out upon

the world as“went out

upon circumference”to fix a flux inside

the raina rain that follows the plow

as it drifts & divides

to gain a foothold against a ghost

As if air could be netted

“sturdy little countenance against the wind”

fifty million bison now

forty-five million cattlean outline for our eventual

inability to escape from circumstances

home implies a border implies

The mountain plover a ground feeder

the burrowing owl occupying a prairie dog’s nest

to roam is not to be without

form but rather to be formed in serial

unsluiced from a territorial tyranny

stands of blue bunch wheat grass & willows

Unlining a creek bed sunken silted & fast


To sluice or still a creek with cattle

carcassesin winter a wintry condition

moves steadily down “the dream

of civilizing a wilderness”more than half the range

had lost more than halfdegraded by grazing

the riparian the headland the hill

How could imagining lead to obsolescence

a wayfarerthe root’s white foot a force

under snow or fireincreasers & decreasers

hay-balers barbed wire & antibiotics

this underpinning“a postponeless creature”

no darker despot so restful in the enclosure

The enclosed constructions of the present

become hard to recognize as home

for bluebird for Henslow’s sparrow for bobolink

these fields without fencerow

or windbreaknew oligarchy

“the sound of the prairie being plowed

Was that of a fusillade of pistols”


Knowledge as the composition of a body

subsoilaquifertrail of thorn & thistle

at any given momentdivisible

savagenomaddisciples when the west was

abundant in fescue bunchgrass & light

unbent“if what we could—

Were what we would”cessation implies

successionsediment ash dust sand

seeda borrowed dwellingitself an echo

yourselfdisplacedenvy what is already

false or scarce“the color of the grave

is green”“the color of the grave is white”

Is reprieve to replace usno employment here

in this weedy plutocracy of parceled plots

with no way to overcome

enoughlife as almost straight

as most unlikea snowbound hillan elk

in a winter rangea blight of dry lightning

Mountain scissoring a big sky over grass

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