POETRY: Elegy For The Emptied Prairie, by Benjamin Dombroski

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.
Country cleaved

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

in handwriting
written in such florid script:

the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

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