“My Lands Are Where My Dead Lie Buried” by William Stratton

In South Dakota they told me you could watch
your dog run away for three days. There was a fire
on the prairie during my stay, from the highway
I could see black sky raising like hackles. I fled
the hills and headed east past the bed of a sea;
at night there were no eyes along the road, I saw
nothing that lived for a whole day except cars
and a gas station and an empty hotel. I dreamt
of trees speaking in low voices along the edges
of a river, moving a bundle wrapped in cloth
between leaved hands. In Mitchell I was cornered
by wrestlers in a townie bar. We compared scars and ears
and just before dawn they carried me like a corpse
to my room with a golf club and a picture of Rushmore.
I woke feeling as if I had missed something, maybe
back in the trenches of the badlands, or as though
the Ponderosa back west would die if I left.
It has been several years, and no word from them.
None of it was a dream. I lost the pictures but
I remember my hands along the top of the grass
and the hills in my rear view, imagining a dog with Crazy Horse,
the three of us pining for the prairie, still visible through the smoke.

Born in Norwich, New York and growing up on his great-grandfather’s farm, the writing of William Stratton is heavily influenced by the rural landscape and people native to the area. His movement around central New York and into New England along with his various career changes have brought a number of perspectives into his work; physically in both person and place, and in a more abstract sense via modes of thought and expression. Though his professional career started in journalism, his gradual move towards verse pushed him to pursue an M.F.A. from the University of New Hampshire. He is an advocate of poetry even among those who might not often read it, and believes that poetry belongs to and with all people, not just poets. 

Image: Wind Cave National Park via National Park Service

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