Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge
Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge

Grassland

K. L. Barron, Wabaunsee County

Plain Kansas plains
sprawling into hills of grass, stone thousands of years
fresh each spring
western edge of tallgrass
once vast
now the last unbroken piece of prairie
Chew on the stem of a blade of grass, ruminate
as millions of bison did, then
cattle-cows, steers, bulls, calves bulking on the green grass of existence for existence in the vanishing echo of ecosystem
thin soil thick flint, occasional glacial rock
once an ocean, now a sea of grass undulating dry waves
under the wind, clouds, bare blue sky
matched end to end with the land
it makes some cry from a subtle reckoning of connection, place,
others from a bored blindness to color, contour
an inability to plumb the depths of roots, rock, the thought
of no ocean, no mountains
Upland, the contours O'Keefe would have painted had she stopped at this place
curves of burnt umber, yellow ochre, crimson, lavender
The grass is black ashes in the spring
when the hills go up in smoke and everywhere the prairie burning, burned,

about to burn
sepia light, compressed time, singed image of past searing the present
purging everything you thought you knew into haze in the air,
fires ablaze on the ground till it's just the you you were born with and the land
you remember once from somewhere
stubborn layers of stone appear like bones of ancestors
and everything is black in remembrance of green that will rise again
spring burn, controlled burn, ridding insidious weeds,
trees and woody plants from the prairie face
encroaching Eastern red cedar, sumac, sericea lespedeza
Native roots are persistent
tenacious, woven in complex patterns beneath thin soil
the heart of the heartland
new shoots, not only unscathed but enriched
a carbolic catharsis
a symbiotic smudging of thousands of acres
yielding bluestem, gamma grass, turkey foot, buffalo
eighty-eight variations on the theme of grass accompanied by 650 strains of wildflowers
ebbing and flowing, primrose, coneflower, compass plant, indigo
through tides of green waves
the complexity of subtlety
Kansas flint hills prairie
noticed by Native Americans, poets and pioneers
as pleasant and practical as breath
you cannot see it fast, it is a slow landscape
the slow and slow of snow in winter
one individual flake floating down at a time
water like stone, your own body chilled to the bone
it makes you shiver, this place, even in summer, this prairie landscape
if you stay quiet, you can hear it, whispering
taking you in with fragrance of grass, sage
braiding you into the firelight, twilight, starlight
the green flash will hit you like a certain bolt
lightning, lightning bugs, fireflies, moonlight, sunlight
azure, lapis, cobalt, indigo skies
jump, plummet
the deep grassy sea, the currency
of nature, the possibility of presence above red tailed hawks
some see a limitless emptiness, others a fine balance between earth and sky
acres of tallgrass beyond the plough of time and implement
most of it sacrificed, scarified with cash crops and development
corn and wheat, crops and construction by enterprising invasive people
mostly on the lowlands, near creek beds
gravel roads, cottonwoods, the occasional shade of an oak, a sycamore
building breaks, hedge posts, rock fences against the wind

but in this place, the prairie still holds
the complex roots of simple grasses
beneath the surface
not just six, but eight feet below
the swell of grass
first green
then hardened to crimson, dry brown, crackling black
rock strewn persistence,
preservation
the prairie,
natural habitat
to dancing prairie chicken, voles, rabbits, raccoons, badgers, deer
killdeer, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, bobcats
and fire
people with matches and rakes controlling the recomposition of grass
for sustenance,
vision and revision,
Things are not simple among the tallgrasses
if you walk there you are stepping on coherence,
leadplant, goldenrod, history, antiquity
the voice of the prairie,
a low, slow whispering breath of a distant music quiet as smoke


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