Three poems

August 29, 2019

Prairie Restoration

 

"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.

Zebrinus grass,

purple joepieweed.

 

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.

Butterfly weed,

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.

 

Existing here

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.

 

 

 

Death Cats

 

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.

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