Apr/May 2004 Poetry Special Feature

I Used to Want to Live in South Dakota

by John Reinhard

Art by Janet L. Snell


I Used to Want to Live in South Dakota

I still think of spring there,
how the farmers would suture
the soil, spend lengthening days
on tractors, seed caps green
as dreams. Then they'd spread
manure, acres of it, which
I should have found
obnoxious, especially since I was
only a tourist, yet
there was something about
a land so sure of itself
that even shit could come clean
and almost shine.

Late summers, the bikers arrive
in South Dakota, bringing
cartons of cigarettes, filtered now,
and booze that's better
every year. I remember waving
to some of them, watching
as they grayed awkwardly
with the fields, some testament
I suppose to the implausibility
of bone, that record we play
and play.

But I remember as well a woman
I loved, and when I told her how
I had this notion of living in South Dakota,
she was silent, and by the next day she
had packed up all her books and skin
and she was gone. So what
did I really know of South Dakota
except that Bill Hickok drew a bad hand and died
in Deadwood, we humbled ourselves
in blood at Wounded Knee, faces
could be scared out of stone in the hills, and
good women could be frightened away by nothing
more than the sound of its name.

I'd go back there, yes, though I'm afraid
I'll always just be driving through. I'll never know enough
to lay a claim that's honest
or honored. The wind finds its rhythm
in South Dakota. What
the wind tells us is about all
I understand. And this changes
any time the land leans a little,
whenever an ear moves closer
to the ground or a mouth
opens wide.


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