Necropastoral for the Mississippi River

********Is this heaven?
********No, it’s Iowa.
********—Field of Dreams

At night the grass
ticks lemon sounds

each bladethroat slick
with pollen, dust, air

stocked with nitrogen
corn ultraverdant

in the hoar-pale night.
This yardgrass of the Midwest

foams its sow-scented earth
into miniature whitefists

to stay the ground and watch
the rain parading past

as snow geese flood the sky
abrupt new populace

fulminating in the poles
crude company for

such artifitted flows.
The river sings

to yards and to
the laboratory men

we are free
we can do anything.

The sun is in its morning house
counting out its birds

who raise their dust-
colored feathers

into a persimmon sky
before dusk makes

of us blankshapes
and drifting ships

who sail unmeaning into
the artifacting night

where the dark’s compressed
til the blacks break up

into haloes of shadow
into sunsets of squares.

To project ourselves
into the blown-out sun

or the whitened sands
of Puerto Rico or Mexico

is not to escape from a ground
consecrated with glyphosate.

We are always
being followed

by the brown tilled river
and the blue-green tide.

Are bodies more
impressive than light?

Agricola: a tonic
made of corn.

Perforated cattle
rocking in their stalls.

Cultura: refineries of meat,
the farmers and their dying wives.

Text me that
reassuring voice.

Text me tomorrow
as a bright, hot thing.

We are free.
We can do anything.

What good comes of telling
the fishers of the south

how calm must be contrails of corn
how orderly the silken ears

and fat the cows and hogs
to thicken the sleep of men

with scarce lightning
mortgages, mortality

affordable goods
fording the shores of a river

who stairsteps down hills
with her frills of fish

or burrows her rifts
like a great salamander

waving its tail
to command the weather?

Such flashes:
childhood, adolescence

flickering away
as viral video

or archived in the cloud
til nothing’s left of us

but light, numbers,
code aloft, enclouded,

not quite dead
nor quite alive.

Quickened. Free.
We can do anything

where the algae blooms
incessantly and where

you’ll find our things asleep
our bakelite and bandaids

our hairnets and plastic
tambourines aswirl,

refined, entombed
by a dream of light.

*

Mary Austin Speaker is the author of Ceremony, winner of the 2012 Slope Editions book prize; The Bridge (Push Press 2011); 20 Love Poems for 10 Months (Ugly Duckling Presse 2012); and a collaborative play, written with her husband, poet Chris Martin. New poems have appeared in Boston Review, Jubilat, Forklift Ohio, and elsewhere, and her critical work can be found in Pleiades and Painted Bride Quarterly. She lives in Minneapolis, where she designs books for HarperCollins, Milkweed Editions, The Song Cave and others. She will teach at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference this June.

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