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Rick Marlatt

Father, Son, River Valley

In the autumn of his life
          he brings his son here
                    one last time

to a riverside corn field
          where curved necks
                    of Sandhill cranes

sheen the golden stalks
          at sunset in swooping
                    brush strokes.

The classroom was his
          nesting ground where
                    he lent his students

his eyes to look the world
          over, decide themselves
                    if their vision had merit.

He tilts his windbreak brow
          into mapled light fragments
                    and whispers to his son

They migrate the soul
          to skies too huge for

They migrate the soul,
          feral spirits honed to
                    reach a point,

wings freshly molted
          wait to be summoned
                    the way ideas take

shape in linguistic motion
          and extend like bones
                    through cognition.

They migrate the soul,
          teach us the power
                    of being on time,

conviction of where to go
          how to get there, just
                    a deep nerve burn.

They migrate the soul,
          see compass direction
                    as visual image

the same way we’re taught
          look down when humbled,
                    up when we pray.

The woven stream rivers
          hollow hymnal notes of
                    pure harvest songs

behind two men with nothing
          left to say in words Nebraska
                    just blows away.

Ready now, son steps away
          from father, nearer than
                    he’s ever dared, he

crouches where the prairie
          vibrates in color, this land
                    drunk on February rain.

Their mystical takeoff, full
          of heart beat, full of corn
                    seeds, full of tiny hands

on a gnarled face, love tough
          as muskthistle roots, full of

pulls him up straight,
          a man absolute,

by the smattering of fall,
          stretch of the horizon,
                    the size of the world.



Seasonal Prayer

What is this creek
          this pasture
                    this river valley world?

It’s the salty cow skull in afternoon sun crack
          space black eye holes open portals
                    to old songs sung in vowels of grief-

the prophets of sandhill spring
          who saunter out to do us another dance-

the palatable distance in the Herring’s wingspan sky blue    wide
          tracing heaven in looping                brush strokes
                              listen to the land.

It’s a dancing secret on the breath of the morning fawn-
          a boy with buffalo grass at the root of his marrow
                    born all over to become a man-
                              child to father to clod to corn to dust to blue wingspan
                                        listen to the land.
What is this cow skull creek bed
          breathing bull frog vocal sac
                    trailing tears of black ants     marching

what is it’s sunflower burden?
          It’s bovine esophagus
                    gushing chemical          run-off
                              to charcoal spits under sycamore scowl

listen, it’s the old man driven by allegiance to land
          like a lime oak leaf bleeds     November
                    stays ahead of the first snow’s surge-

it’s a place panting to keep up
          stay productive          proficient          worthwhile.

Listen to the pasture creek’s braided brain whisper
          as it crawls on four generation knees
                    gutted jagged by green sky tooth
                              minnow sprinkle gums

cubescent tears
          greasy sweat blood
                    shattercane swirls in prairie worlds
reflected time in manure love spa
          cobalt mornings
                    majestic midnights
                              carries the weight of me.

Who is this boy with buckled knees
          ready to cross to the other bank?
                    Whose hands are these that bleed ether steel         weather the wind?

He’s the man you’ll become.

It’s the hoarfrost that’s called
          in December crystals
                    that star barbed wire
                              wrenched and wrapped tight like varicose veins
                                        around skull hard hands
                                                  and blue wingspan.

What is this spirit wave
          this cottonwood trance?

Let the pasture creek call in floods of forever
          divide and disperse      all motion
                    all time             let it run here               die here
                              be born all over here
rush               wave               rush               ripple               ripple
          zippergrass                          dip.

Who is this boy rising from buffalo grass marrow
          in June columns of glory
                    to wingspan heaven blue?

It was you
          the morning fawn whispers
          as you drench the father’s hands
                    with the son’s soaked soil clod.

Locked eyes join the banks over whippoorwill waves
          that drown anhydrous hiss and rattle
                    with old prairie oceans sung in vowels of grief.
Let it run           let it roar           let it bleed           let it sing           let it rollover
          listen                   listen                   listen to the land.