Erin L. McCoy

MANDAN, NORTH DAKOTA

 

Tall prairiegrass once shielded most of the big-boned elk
the galley-borne ponies set loose where the meadow sedge
white sage blazing star goldenrod hackled up in defense
under those hooves. But it got harder, the hooves I mean
subsistence the blue-eyed grass and black-eyed Susan
battling for turf on the North Dakota prairie. When I was
a child my knees grew soft from bending. I slept whole days
against the car windowglass and woke up that day
a day like the rest on more blacktop in the Bonanza Buffet
parking lot in North Dakota by a Super 8 and still en route
to the Mall of America where no French brie or cave-aged
and ash-blue goat cheese at the Cheese Shop could supplant
canola-blonde American. It was the future. We walked in
ordered Cokes and filed up to the buffet of heat-lamped steaks
over-muscled and prodded by vaqueros—cowboys that is
who in all but the word are Spanish—through clipped barbed
fences too far in untamed terrain. Sour-milk far. Dried-up far.
Meatballs ground by Lithuanians with the accidental sweet hearts
of glad rats the only glad inhabitants of the meatpacking district
and A1 salty with soy sauce invented in China before
the fifth century. Now the wild licorice of the tallgrass prairie
bows before the cemented block containing within it
a smaller block of cement and brick and mud and bows
before the death camas and purple loco of the shortgrass prairies
clawing up from Missouri, surviving even dry-mouthed and bent
into postholes and their roots tugged out by domesticated goats
kept for what reason? Americans will not eat them. Although to be
Us is to be without prohibition except if you protest what is said
without prohibition then that is prohibited. As a kid I concluded
women must write very poor must sing very poor also I concluded
that if I disguised my woman name I could perhaps escape this fact
of nature so my face blushed up beneath the Bonanza heat lamps
upon hearing the growled approximations of songs never owned
but stepped inside of by Janis Joplin suits once belonging
to Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith who nevertheless
she undoubtedly loved. I loved Joplin and was ashamed of this
and still am but for other reasons. Like how I still dream
of that blood-fed calf veal delicious delicious under the golden
lamps on the gourmet end of the buffet but fed on the blood
of other cows. Who would invent that? And despite everything
it can’t help being delicious even more than the beef fed
on slender wheatgrass and fescue sedge and prairie-fringed orchid
herded through air only fouled by the quiver off a farm oil well
pecking like a drinking-duck toy at the pathetic earth
of rawhide and tanned leather the desert where grass is a cough
from the dead land’s mouth. As I scooped a clot of boxed dry-flake
mashed potatoes I was invisibly present unthreatening/
unthreatened while the Great Sioux Nation was invisibly
unpresent on the reservation while their Black Hills yawned out
abandoned goldmines and down south the Corn Palace
built entirely of grains first domesticated by indigenous
Mexicans constructed in Moorish Revival style encouraged
children to dig for fool’s gold in a sand pit and to know
the difference between that and what was real. Invisibly
present that is white among whiteness where we all agreed
the veal was excellent and agreed to ignore the sweet
in the meatballs. We slathered them instead with sauce
made from a nightshade native to Central and South America
and called in Nahuatl tomatl by the conquistadores tomate.
Junegrass and spike oats turned to weeds by their proximity
to parking. Our faces framed unblinkingly inside that family
portrait of Ben Cartwright Adam Cartwright Hoss Cartwright
and Little Joe Cartwright that is the claim of good intentions,
idyllic, easy, except for our important sadnesses, how we’ve lost
a land that once was Manifestly ours. Whatever its name each grass
is the same as every other grass when you look out over
the prairie see how they all collaborate assimilate toward a shared
goal that is to look beautiful, that is, to survive I mean.


ERIN L. MCCOY holds an MFA in Poetry and an MA in Hispanic Studies from the University of Washington. One of her poems was selected by Natalie Diaz for inclusion in Best New Poets 2017. Her poetry has also appeared in such journals as DIAGRAM, Pleiades, and Tusculum Review.


Issue Four
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