Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 4, 2010

Holy Prairie – an original poem w/ photos

Holy Prairie (aka Ebb and Flow)       

by Mark Nielsen   March 4, 2010

Same fast walk,

same destination: the FPD prairie conservation area.

Only today I take a different route.

I’m on the fast track to the bridge:

The paved bike path through deciduous woods.

Only this week it’s also paved with six inches

Of snow and ice.

I step carefully,

Looking down as often as out and up,

To keep from falling.

But nothing — not snow or turned ankles

Or the razor’s edge we’re walking

To get the mortgage paid this month,

Nothing! –will keep me from my appointed rounds.

That prairie has a message to deliver,

And I cannot be stopped in my retrieval

And delivery of that message to you.

Two shaggy dogs, one saggy, one spry

Are walking off-leash with a man up ahead.

I catch up to them quickly,

At which point they each give a sniff

(except for the man)

and join me at a trot for a dozen paces

before deciding they’re not in that much of a hurry

and turning back to their master.

Now that I’ve crossed Horse Bridge,

The prairie is not far.

As a natural, unspoiled habitat

This prairie leaves much to be desired—

What with the high-tension power lines along its northern edge

And the commuter train tracks on the west.

But it’s all we’ve got within walking distance,

And it’s somehow managed to stay holy

Despite the trappings of modern mechanical mayhem

That border it on three sides.

I take the second path to the prairie,

Having been distracted by the dogs

When I was passing the first.

So I come out into the clearing

At the northeast corner of the dry, rustling,

Forty acre cathedral.

This puts me on course to reverse my usual direction,

To go counterclockwise

In the circular circuit of my weekly rounds:

A full circle around this blessed forty acres.

No more than forty paces on down the path

I see blood on the snow.

I can’t tell whose it is

Till I spot Sergeant Robin’s left wing,

Ripped from her breast,

A few paces further on.

Redtail was here not long ago.

I am sorry I missed him,

Especially sorry I missed the morning matinee.

There are signs of a struggle:

It was not a quick kill.

Given how spread out the feathers are,

With the left wing a full thirty yards

From where I first saw the blood.

I walk back, pick up the right wing

and gently place it in the pocket of my sweatpants.

Then ahead, the more damaged left

To complete the set.

I consider the clump of tailfeathers,

But decide to leave them behind

For some other craftsman or curiosity-seeker.

I recall with a smile

A scene from last summer,

When Robin defended her nest

By mussing the hair

Of a startled Chinese man

At our favorite (often crowded) public garden.

She had come at me, too,

But I was on-guard and ducked.

Robin had her hands full that day,

What with all the newlywed couples.

They and their peach-flavored  bridal parties –

all the decked-out Ashleys, Sun Yees, Robins and Frankies —

Were waiting in line,

To take photos on the Japanese bridge,

just fifteen feet from her nest

(where the gorgeous evergreens

of a sacred unspoiled island

wove gently in the background

behind them all).

Funny (not really)

how we love to tame the wilderness in our midst:

we tend it when it suits us,

discard it when it’s in our way.

Funnier still when the earth hits back,

Reminding us that every day is an adventure –

A life and death struggle –

For most other species on the planet.

I come here each week to reclaim my wildness.

Robin and Redtail remind me I bleed.

I scratch my sweaty cheek.

My hands smell gamey.

This, however, is a very different sort of roadkill

On a newly resurgent road/not road.

The limestone path

Back to the paved road later on,

Has a discarded, curled up steel drainpipe near it

That reminds me of the fallen stone pillars

On the Palatine Hill in Rome last summer.

When I consider that someday

These overhead powerlines,

Diesel train tracks,

“Don’t Pick Flowers” signs,

sewerpipe hollow pillars,

bridges, and trash,

–all traces of tame, technological,

unnatural me–

will likely be gone,

reclaimed by prairie,

I feel Redtail’s glee,

Overcome by his hunter’s heartfire.

Golden eagle photo by Eric Walters, central Illinois, Feb. 2010


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