poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 26, 2018
About this Poem 

“‘Burn’ re-imagines the sensuality of the prairie, including the reconstructed prairie, and the possibilities of an individual Black life.”
Janice N. Harrington

Burn

The wind then, through seams of bluestem,
or switchgrass swayed by a coyote’s passing.

Where the fabric gapes, Barthes said,
lies the sensual. A prairie cut

by winding seeps, or winds or shearing wings.
Mare’s tails, mackerels, cirrus,

distance dispersed as light. Under a buzzard’s bank
and spiral the prairie folds and unfolds.

Here between the stands of bluestem, I am interruption.
I rake my fingers over culms and panicles.

Here seeds burr into my sleeves, spur each hem.
In a prairie, I am chance. I am rupture. The wind—

thief, ruffian, quick-fingered sky, snatches a kink
of my hair. The broken nap falls, wound round

like a prairie snake, a coil of barbed wire, a snare
for the unwary. In the fall, volunteer naturalists

will wrench invading roots and scour grassy densities
with fire. Wick, knot, gnarl, my kindled hair

will flare, burn, soften into ash, ash that will settle,
sieve through soil, compost for roots to suck

and worms to cast out, out into the loess that raises
redtop, turkeyfoot, sideoats grama,

and all the darkened progenies of grass
that reach and strive and shape dissent from light.

Copyright © 2018 by Janice N. Harrington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Janice N. Harrington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Janice N. Harrington

Janice N. Harrington’s most recent book of poetry is Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin (BOA Editions, 2016). She teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois and lives in Champaign, Illinois.

by this poet

poem
Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.

I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln.  It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and