JLC (1967 / Galesburg, Illinois)

A Place With No Name

“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them…”
— Carl Sandburg, “Chicago”

This is place with no name,
an imagined ideal, nostalgia
wearing bib overalls, chewing
grass stems, herding cattle,
shearing creamy black-faced
lambs. We carry buckets full
of myths and great expectations.

She hungers for the flavor of buffalo, longs for fresh bones, cougar tracks, wolf dens, the scorch of rapid flames escorting one season into the next, total exchange of life for life, of death for hope.
This is neither fairytale nor ancient pastoral, neither romanticism nor barefoot babes—It is Kinsella’s antipastoral in America.
It is coyotes and coydogs lurking behind walls of fiery thistle, luring pups through horseweeds to razor sharp traps with whimpers and pledges of friendship.

I have seen the earth swallow her own children.
I have seen the sun drink until there was nothing left for the land, until the sunflowers hung their heads in shame and wept dry black tears.

I hear nightly incantations of this place, it howls sober songs—I hear the hollow sounds of owls that warn, the cry of cold winds that begin and end every year—
The indifferent frogs chorus through lightening and spring snow—they think only of their children.
I feel her opening up to swallow again—she baits the trap with illusions of splendor, with promises she will not keep—her hunger never satisfied.
She is my grandmother, my mother, your mother, our sister, the apparition from whom we can hide no better than the prince of Denmark. She speaks in a strange language. We lean in to listen—the bait.

This place still has no name.
The nostalgia rusts.
No one wears overalls anymore.
You must know what the owl means.

The old children throw their weapons to the surface in the wake of silver blades, in the bed of that ash which still remains, in the bed where life meets itself—the old women break their dishes against her surface.
The new children cast themselves into her arms—momentarily quench her thirst with tears—they wait for her to yawn.
Cattle are raised in muddy lots. Pigs never see the grass, never the sun, just grated floors and the pretentious hands that mock her grace.

I have seen the red of factories flow through creeks into ponds and wells. I have seen them celebrate their victories and she will not call out to them—she rejects their bitterness. They are sleeping pills, bad drugs.
I see a dead thing on the road. I know the ringed tail, the hoofed leg, the long snout, the white-gray fur, the domestication gone wrong. The vulture is grateful for our mistakes.

The indifferent frogs sing.
Still. The grass has cancer.
We only think of lambs on Easter.
These buckets are getting too heavy.
I cannot tell a lie.

I killed the tree, used it for books that I bought and never read, used it for walls I take for granted, for heat I could have lived without.
I ate the pig, fed the cattle to my children—we used their bodies for shoes, hats, manufactured food for feral cats and roaming hounds.
I leaned in to hear her faint voice whisper. I tried to kiss her, pulled away when she drew me near, stretched toward her again to hear a family secret.
I fed the vultures a skunk, a raccoon, an armadillo, and two cats that I threw into her long weeds.

I chew her poisonous stems, flirt with her cancer, taunt and dare it, engage it in a war where there can be no victor but her, in a battle I expect to win.

We carry buckets full of
myths and great expectations.
An imagined ideal, nostalgia
wearing bib overalls, chewing
grass stems, herding cattle,
shearing creamy black-faced lambs.
This is place with no name.

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