Keeping a Fern Alive in the High Plains

I’m guessing the last thing Custer saw
wasn’t the pied pony dead,
or the infecting iron of the arrow
looping through the air,
the leather of a cartridge belt,
dropped when the man dropped,
but the colorless grass of that knoll in Montana.
It is hard somehow not to blame
the ground for the sky.

Against reason I hang Boston ferns
in the corners of the living room,
and for several weeks, over-fertilized,
still lush for nursery customers,
they pop like vegetable fireworks.

And still for weeks against reason
I take them out to the porch when they pale,
water them again, talk sweetly,
sing them songs of the Queen Charlottes
and Scapa Flow lullabies
when they go,

and think ruefully, comically,
how nothing survives the high plains —
when of course nothing survives
the channel and the undercliff.
We just die wetter on the coast.

Or wonder,
when I put another one out with the trash,
if they dreamed, still damp,
in their dark green potted plastic,
of the shortgrass prairie and the chaparral,
if they were tempted,
like the sibyl suspended in a glass cage,
or the boy in the bubble,
to exit, to open the door,
to say the hell with it,
to hell with all our circumstances
and sentences,
I’m going anyway.

Hawk Hovering

Above a stretch of buffalo grass
a Rough-legged Hawk sits in the wind.
The snow has blown in west-north-west
but it seems to come straight out of Wyoming,
hard enough that he beats his wings
only now and then,
otherwise suspended,
over a colony of prairie dogs,
over deer mice,
over small skittering birds.

He is used to the weather.
They breed far north, in the arctic,
and this spring in Colorado
with the warmth coming on
and the dormant grass greening,
the dry blowing snow of the high plains
is a perfect comma:
the ground is awake,
the sudden squall has caught prey
in between,
neither low nor about,
neither resting nor vigilant,
and he can wait here,
all day, untired,
head to the wind.