Prairie School

Janice N. Harrington

A catfish has over 27,000 taste buds. Imagine
the taste of the Mississippi.

Sweet, or oily as fried hair? Nitrates, asphalt,
shat mud, or pesticide on the laces of a child’s cerebrum?

I’ve watched—
tallgrasses roll in slow combers, in swells, upsurge, and shining,

Carolina hoppers beat against my thigh, little ricochets of fear,

a fawn puddled under a hem of honeysuckle,

and a flicker, probably. I don’t know all the birds.

But I know the diction my body has learned to speak—
kettle, wetland, deer beds, vernal ponds,
straight-line winds, oak grove, sward—
a knowing gained by going out,
by the eye’s emending,
by the thorn-stick of a honey locust.

Near a forgotten prairie creek,
a great blue heron wingbeats into flight,
trembles a branch with silence.
How poorly I’ve read those wild distances,
the rising script of tallgrasses,
the way a Cooper’s hawk renders light.

Janice N. Harrington is the author of Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin (BOA Editions). She teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Originally published:
December 7, 2022

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