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Monday, 15 June 2009

Grasses of the Plains


shades of grass 5 by Dennis Toll.

The big bluestem has roots six feet deep.
Indian grass grows with the bluestem;
switch grass also ripples there in the wind.

Going west you get less rain:
the little bluestem grows waist high, and so does
the side oats grama, and the bearded needlegrass.

Further west, the short grass of the Plains grows:
the blue grama, knee high; and the buffalo
grass, which grows up to the ankles.

turkeyfoot by Dennis Toll.

Shades of Grass 5: Flint Hills, Kansas: photo by Dennis Toll, 2008
Little Bluestem: photo by Mike Haddock
Turkeyfoot (big bluestem): Flint Hills, Kansas: photo by Dennis Toll, 2008


Billy said...

A landscape as alien to me as Mars; thanks for the word-painting. Brings Willa Cather to mind, somehow.

Marcia said...

I've always loved this poem, and the images are so perfectly home to me -- stark, yet beautiful prairie.

TC said...


Yes, this is Willa Cather Country.

And Marcia, you know it as dear to heart and near to home.

In the nineteenth century Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of his train journey across the then still nearly pristine Plains in tones of awe and wonder: "We were at was a world almost without feature; an empty sky and an empty earth; front and back, the line of railway stretched from horizon to horion, like a cue across a billiard board."

Grasses would have to be the most underappreciated and unseen of the great North American landforms--moving from the tallgrass prairies of the Eastern plains to the shortgrass prairies of the West, they are the central feature as well as the empty spot in a vast and ancient landscape. The hugeness of the sky above is defined by the great wide floor they lay down.

Hoa said...

Tom, thanks for this poem. Lovely.

We lived on (now just "near") one of the most fragmented prairies, the Blackland (home of little blue and also switch, others).

Our favorite seed supplier is devoted to collecting native seeds (called appropriately Native American Seed), their last catalogue featured "grasses"...

TC/BTP said...

Thanks Hoa,

Will you be planting a garden then, in the floodplain beneath your piers?

(By the by, among the curious anomalies of the previous century, E.D. sang this poem once at the MLA convention--down in your neck of the woods it was--accompanied by the itinerant High Plains slide guitarist Dobro Dick Dillof. I once had and then later lost a tape of the performance: as I recall it was reverent, elevated in tone, eerily wonderful and strange.)

Dale said...

Tom, great to see this poem again---so close to home, as Marcia says.

Elmo St. Rose said...

The Flint Hills green as Ireland
of a spring
peopled with farmers too who
could not tolerate a crooked row,
cowboys past and still today
rodeo towards the western glow
At night she struck
a figure, the barrel racer with
the magenta shirt......from Moline
running her stuff
in Cedarvale Kansas against
the silhouette of hills and grasses.

TC/BTP said...

Very lovely, Elmo.

The oldest function of poetry, to keep memories green.