How to Know a Prairie Poem
You can see it on a morning drive through a Charlie Russell painting* Where an apricot sun splashes summer over the Northern Great Plains Wild roses compose in ripened pinks and sunflowers margin the trail across a sagebrush spotted sheet of prairie Cottonwood trees slant in cursive created by a breeze And clouds colour bucolic viewpoints over Square Butte in changing inks of blue, green and violet You can hear it with windows down on your Ford Explorer Garth Brooks ejected at the first meadowlark’s six-note warble Its meter already measured by Mother Nature Accompanied by tires pounding their gravel crunch governed by a thirty-mile-an-hour metronome Cadence replaced with the beat of background crickets after you pull over for a picnic You can taste it in slices of homemade Montana-wheat bread wrapped around chokecherry jelly and chunky peanut butter Washed down with lukewarm coffee from a Thermos and dark chocolate that melts in your mouth Caffeine and feral funnelling through your fingers for a first draft in a journal you keep in the dash box While a few feet away a family of cottontail feed on purple clover You can smell it like clothes fresh from the line defining the air in an endless blue and white marbled dryer A sea of native grass and sage scents narrated by waves of wind with whispers from a skunk-drunk coyote And inhaled smoke-signalled history on hillsides pulls you back a century into printed accounts of cowboys and Indians Who bring their stormy past onto the blank page of the present You can feel it down to your feet the unforeseen drum roll of thunder As though a distant herd of buffalo hooves is thrumming nerve endings The sky suddenly spilled and smeared with black ink But it writes in a deluge of translucent drops that soak to skin before you can reposition your picnic to the Explorer Where you wait out the twenty-minute diatribe along with Garth Brooks Until the West’s first poet touches your soul with its perfect meadowlark lyrics And leads you to the exit of the painted sun replenished prairie
*Charles Marion Russell, 1864‒1926, dubbed “the cowboy artist”, storyteller, author and artist who created more than 2000 paintings of the Old American West.
Ellaraine Lockie is an American poet and non-fiction writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. She was born and raised in the Big Sandy and Bear Paw Mountains region of Montana, to where she returns regularly for extended stays at her log cabin. Lockie has received a number of writing awards, including 27 nominations for the US annual Pushcart Prize, one of which was for today’s poem. As well as appearing in literary magazines, journals and anthologies in the US and internationally, she has published 12 chapbooks of her poetry, including ‘Where the Meadowlark Sings’, which received an Encircle Publications award, and from which today’s poem also comes. Her 13th chapbook is due next year. Lockie teaches poetry workshops, and is the poetry editor for Lilipoh magazine. More of her poetry, and availability of her publications, can be found readily on the net.