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Neil Harrison

                                      This Animal

                                      She pounces and chews on a tennis ball
                                      when I kneel on the rug in the living-room
                                      to stretch my legs before our morning run
                                      along the river on the new bike trail
                                      they poured over the defunct U. P. line,
                                      where she’ll head west along the right-of-way
                                      and I’ll follow, conscious of her leading me
                                      out of complacence and once again
                                      into a world she can sense somehow, still
                                      blooming at the end of that ancient track,
                                      and I know if I let her take me back,
                                      let the rotten fruits of knowledge fall
                                      like crusted scales from a blind man’s eyes,
                                      I’ll be with her today in paradise.


                                      Old Photo of “Eddie”

                                      In rolled-up shirt sleeves and rolled-up jeans,
                                      big white western hat tipped back,
                                      revealing your wealth of thick black curls,
                                      you straddle some early boyfriend’s bike
                                      outside an old firehouse garage,
                                      leaning forward on that vintage Harley,
                                      grinning at the camera, mother’s little sister,
                                      looking fully ready for The Great Escape.

                                      And if you’d known what lay ahead
                                      you’d have kicked that cold machine to life
                                      and roared away without one look back,
                                      rolling out of reach of what no doubt was
                                      already in hot pursuit and gaining fast,
                                      decades of abandonment, poverty, pain,
                                      leading to that illness doctors couldn’t cure
                                      and that death not one would speed.


                                      Season of the Long Shadows

                                      In October
                                      when the year begins
                                      slowly sinking toward its end
                                      face north
                                      and close your eyes
                                      on the path of the old migrations.

                                      Hear lost echoes
                                      of a feathered tide
                                      rolling overhead in waves,
                                      and feel again
                                      the ancient earth
                                      cast into treeless shade for days.

                                      Watch vast flocks
                                      drawn to alluring calls
                                      descend from the heavens and disappear,
                                      as another living
                                      piece of the planet falls
                                      to the leveled guns of the marketeers.



                                      Platte Valley Girls
                                                              (for Ashley and Shelby and Kasey and Paige)


                                      When the robins wake you in the spring,
                                      lie in bed a moment, listening
                                      to their sweet voices beneath your own
                                      breathing in that peaceful space, your home.

                                      And when the summer frogs on the river start
                                      chanting lullabies, each taking part
                                      in that ancient chorus at the long day's end,
                                      close your eyes and drift home with them.

                                      And late in autumn when the geese begin
                                      their long ride south on the cold north wind,
                                      each of them urging the others on
                                      as they follow the arc of the planet down,

                                      let your spirits rise and fly with them,
                                      back with your sisters to your home, within.



                                      Waiting for the Cranes

                                      There's a boom-town out on the local lake,
                                      augers roaring, shanties popping up,
                                      dozens of fishermen kneeling on the ice,
                                      jigging for panfish with two-foot rods.

                                      First weekend in March, and it's fifty degrees
                                      as I chip my spud through a foot of ice
                                      and set out another tip-up, hoping
                                      a big northern passes by and takes my bait.

                                      Just a week ago long lines of geese
                                      were headed back south on a blizzard wind;
                                      now, here and there a hopeful robin
                                      probes for worms in the shoreline grass.

                                      So it goes in Nebraska, every year
                                      the worst and best times battle it out
                                      in these tentative days the weathermen dread
                                      either side of the vernal equinox.

                                      Though in a week or two we'll be looking up
                                      as a heavenful of southbound harbingers
                                      aims their singular prayer at the Platte,
                                      calling the season down.


                                      . . . and Golden Needles

                                      A few days after they burned the state grass
                                      off the field between these spring-fed lakes,
                                      I imagine the stalks, some shoulder-high,
                                      crackling and eventually uniting in a roar,

                                      wild flames rising, razing the field
                                      like a hungry beast, trailing smoke,
                                      leaving nothing but a few burnt saplings
                                      scattered across a thick carpet of ash.

                                      Drawn to the calls of Canada geese
                                      paired up on the bank of the south-most lake,
                                      I follow my dog this April evening
                                      as she crosses the field’s soft black mat,

                                      where leaves of grass have already sprouted, and
                                      already woven through those short green clumps
                                      a suspended maze of webbing so fine
                                      it would be invisible in any other light

                                      glows now, near dusk, the perfect angle of the sun
                                      illuminating this laser-thin feat of engineering,
                                      and the whole burnt earth feels mended here
                                      by these spinneret-born miles of silver threads.


                                      This Dog Hunts

                                      She lies in the shade west of the garage,
                                      scanning the sky, scenting the morning,
                                      out on the lawn I mowed yesterday
                                      before our run down the hike-and-bike trail,

                                      that section closed now, after the flood,
                                      where I turned her loose as a wish on the world
                                      and she sprinted down the nearly unmarred trail,
                                      every mark erased by last night’s rain

                                      but a few fresh tracks of coyote and deer and
                                      no doubt those pheasants she broke from the trail
                                      and burrowed through the waist-high grass to point,
                                      before my approach sent them clawing skyward.

                                      But it’s September’s now, and all she wants
                                      is to be out there, because . . .