—Gascoyne, North Dakota
The same flies that cloud huge, open eyes
of dying beat thin bodies
against the windows of an abandoned
one room school-house buckled to a wave
of tawny prairie grass. Slant of autumn
light, wind thumbing through
open drill-books and pinned to a wall,
the map of the world after the last war
yellows in the sun. Hawaii
and Alaska await statehood.
English steamers drift at anchor
off Cape Town and Calcutta. Sailors
sweating in heat. Their pink skin burns.
And six petty German thieves dressed
in the drab of infantry
are made to kneel in dew-wet leaves
deep in a wood along the Polish border.
The very end of August
1939—quiet night, dust
of stars scrawled through
interstices of ancient trees.
Only the last one will try to run for it
and have to be shot in the back,
dragged back to the ditch they had made him dig,
spit on, and shot again
because the SS man who chased him
breaks his ankle in a shallow gulch.
already in the minds of Hitler
and Stalin. Sweep of amber and endless
holy sky—wind the only promise
kept across this emptied prairie we stabbed
roads and railroads through, dressed in language
of dreams. The schoolhouse roof sags,
small, slate chairs are stacked in corners
of the room, as if someone will come in early
to clean the floors and wash the last lesson
from the blackboard—an exercise
written in such florid script:
the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.