Here's a poem for the Christmas season. It first appeared in one of my favorite journals, the Iron Horse Literary Review, and then in my latest book, Lapse Americana.
They are not native to this place
but have rushed the grassy hill,
an infantry in spiky green. Go back
a century and the prairie was
unbroken, Donne’s gold to airy thinness beat,
but now the extension man
says we have lost 3 million acres
of our herd’s dominion.
From my old bedroom window,
I could trace the seeds’ progression,
watch the cedars march
over the pasture and beyond
the barbed wire at its back.
One December my father
asked the rancher who owned
all the land around us
for permission to cut a few cedars
to sell as Christmas trees.
The rancher said he wished
we’d take them all, and we took
all we could. Rising early to a dry,
cold day and a wind like fire
over the prairie, we waded
into a morning tide of scrub oak
and eastern red cedar,
where we took turns with the saw,
one bending to cut, the other straight up
with an arm through the biting green
to steady the trunk
until the stump let it loose.
We sold enough to make the ride
home merry in the darkening air
and to cheer the little kitchen
where my mother laid ground
meat in a well-greased pan
while my sisters set the table.
Outside the wind
ripped through the ragged
arms of the cedars,
their red and shaggy roots
deep in alien clay.