"me in place and the place in me" -- Seamus Heaney
The grasses and flowers
growing in this park
sink their roots
into their ancestral grounds
that we have reclaimed anew
in our repentant time.
They are not wild,
but planted as restoration.
A treaty with man
has somewhere held, somehow,
and these first settlers
are brought to reclaim this corner.
Not by virtue
of wind or excrement,
fire or flood,
or the broad extension of roots,
the usual means
by which a prairie spreads.
These grasses and flowers
are set here by guilty hands,
which hope to make good
the trespasses of the past.
sneezewort and vervain.
We have battered the soil
for more than a hundred years,
but healed here
by establishing a zone,
a sort of DMZ
for ironweed and clover,
for blazing stars,
Indian grass and spurge.
The wind here is strong
and the sunshine still promising.
The birds and insects
live here in all their glory,
and frogs and snakes
along the waterline,
and once I saw
a creature low and furry
slink toward water
heavy with its minor crimes.
These tempt the plants
to believe they have a future.
Can they not see
the concrete sidewalk holds them?
Can they not see
that housing development?
Pogrom of the plow
is surely on someone's mind
who plans to build over
this prairie restoration:
for where there are houses,
a need for more is growing.
But this prairie ghetto
sings with amazing life
and here am I,
walking, thinking, writing,
in tune with something
restorative and good.
in this place and this place in me,
here at peace
but under no illusion.
In Defense of Our Times
Some weeks ago I bought a box of pencils,
but it was not pencils I needed or even wanted.
I so rarely use a pencil.
What I wanted and bought was the idea
of a box of pencils. Pristine pencils in a
see-through cylindrical box, already pointed
and packaged with a sharpener at the bottom.
Prepared for labor,
but free now from ever having to do it.
Perfect readiness is what I bought,
is what I now own and hold,
untouched, undirtied by purpose,
unworn away by attempt and correction
until they become gnawed stubs
with erasers rubbed flat
down to the tin ferules to be tossed.
I imagine my box of pencils
a thousand years in the future,
discovered by archeologists
who will gaze upon it sadly and say,
'unused,' and wonder at all the words
these pencils never wrote.
To them I say, yes, but thanks to me,
you hold a perfect box of pencils
from a thousand years ago: evidence
we in our time were ready to write.
Those death cats in nursing homes
know when someone is about to die.
Their mission is to offer the nearly departed
the final sacrament of warmth.
Their silky ears between shaky fingers
are the last softness felt in life.
They know the end is near
for the worn-out humans
and press their purring sides
between rib and withered arm
as a benediction. They can smell
death coming the way we can smell
when clouds grow heavy with rain and,
drops at a time, begin to give way
to the pull of another world.
Death cats need nothing from us,
except permission to lie at the edge
with us, to stay close and watch
with inscrutable eyes
as we slip over.
Will Reger is the 2019-20 Inaugural Poet Laureate to the city of Urbana, IL, and also a founding member of the CU (Champaign-Urbana) Poetry Group (cupoetry.com). He has a Ph.D. from UIUC, teaches at Illinois State University in Normal, and has published most recently with the Blue Nib Literary Magazine, Pangolin Review, Zingara Poetry Review, Passager Journal, Eclectica Magazine, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine, Broadkill Review, and the Innesfree Poetry Journal. His first chapbook is Cruel with Eagles. He is found at https://twitter.com/wmreger -- or wandering in the woods playing his flute.