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Steven Hind, Sampler of Poems

Steven Hind is a native of the Flint Hills who taught English in Kansas for 36 years. His books are Familiar Ground (1980), That Trick of Silence (1990), In a Place With No Map (1997) and Ghost Dance (2004)


In the King's armor he troops
over the green fur of the prairie
to the trough of the Arkansas.
A red-tailed hawk cries
over the eye of a dustdevil,
and buzzards wheel above skulls
in the yellow evening.
Still he clings to the gold
thighs of his dream.
Quail's call sweetens the wind
as the horses drink.
At his gesture the noisy array
strikes back for a knoll to the south.
Leaves of bluestem grease water-
taut bellies as the sun fades
to a dark hide full of stars.

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After Oklahoma
(for Cliff)

At supper when the sky turned dark,
he would talk of Oklahoma:
The first endgate he saw jerked free,
spilling a load of quail and prairie
chicken before the open sheds
where butchers filled the boxcars
for St. Louis, for Chicago. Death
to the deer, the turkey, antelopeB
All fell to the market hunter's gun.

Spring nights out from the bunkhouse
in that place cleared for cattle,
the Osage drums would pound behind the coyotes
until the moon was dancing too, he recalled.
The country breathed out loud some nights.

Later he would light his pipeBthat dark
smell, the smothered sucking soundBand drop
the burning match to make the shadows
dance in the red clay pot
he brought up from Oklahoma.

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Baling After the Flood

We catch the cottonmouth
sliding under August
for water and shade.
We fling the hatchet
at his tense aim,
and kill him.

The stubble whispers with his writhing.
We insist our fingers touch
the dead vigor. We twist
open the white jaws, clutching
revulsion by the throat.
These thin teeth, we say.
All day our hands tremble
in the hot grip of work.

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That Trick of Silence

This slab of land, never
so much anything in the public
mind as a place to get behind you
from Kansas City to Denver,
was just out there, out where
so little stood upright past
the hundredth meridian
that every tree was remarkable,
every stream a new chance
you could not have predicted.
You could drink and wash
your face and look around
where the vast nothing held open
its face to teach you that
Trick of silence.

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Coming Home on Memorial Day

We brought mock orange and peach
colored roses in coffee cans
to Grandmother's and Grandfather's
graves, and my father glanced over
the field of cut stones and said,
"Ninety percent of the flowers here
today are plastic." I was not sure
how he meant it, until now, walking
in his pasture, coming upon this
winter-killed heifer, her empty grin,
and the Red Admiral in the rib cage,
opening and closing its stark wings.

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Finding the Calf

Wind breathes in the new
leaves along the creek.
Mockingbird solos,
every note improvised
and right. The mare prances
when the cow shows herself,
swings round, broken rope
of afterbirth swinging
beneath her tail. She noses
her black calf, wet and still
in the grass, new grass
fat with spring. Welcome.
Welcome. Even with no name
you will always be the calf
born on the finest day of April.
To see you will make me glad.

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Fall Day

Wind brings its old news blowing
through this house in a crack in the hills
where two fields lie still under their loose
bare skins. In their rooms the table and bed
have been alone a long time, hunched in the dark
like old men trying to get up. Once, twice, again
at night wind raps a door against its jamb. No one
is home to stop the question. Wind keeps asking
hinges about letting go. Mouse and black widow
return. Wind reaches out and pulls a brick loose.
The rest of the chimney stays clenched in its mortar
against the sky. Take your time, says wind.

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Uncle Bill Eats Wild Strawberries Alone by the Pond

If you had a wild strawberry woman,
you'd want to call her Ruby, no matter
what her name. You'd jut your jaw so
your mouth watered when you said it,
Ruby. A sweet tart crush of a name
a man could take in his teethBI mean
nobody could make you believe you'd
spend a whole afternoon in the pasture
just to sit here awhile with a cupful
in your cap, eating them one at a time
in the spring wind, thinking about how
nice a wild strawberry woman could be.

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First Flint Hills Bagpipes Festival Begins
(for Tom)

The audible pronouncements of yellow,
like maenads imitating lemons
in ecstasy, startle the tall grass.
Cows cease chewing in mid-chew
as an owl swivels to hold in his vast
yellow eyes the standing
creature with its lopsided crest
of drones. Mice streak for cover
as the chanter scales heaven.
A coyote stops scratching, his toes
cupping his ear. He gets religion.

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Her face wears no
guesses. Wind tells
her every secret he
knows. She moves
at one with silence.
She knows coyote=s
truth about the world.
That is the joke
she tells at night.

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Shirttail Poet in His State

A shirttail poet and his pencil
celebrate the grin of a clear night,
as whippoorwills call from beyond
the sumac. His search for fossil
sea creatures followed the sun all
afternoon. Now he watches his fire,
hearing the stripper wells of a shirt-
tail oilman clobber the dark far away.

Here behind the wrap of chain and
lock on the pasture gate, here
in the little Leavenworth of prairie,
the cell of the section lines
out of sight, he tries to think
himself the king of contentment.

He calls to mind the ease of loafer
nighthawks on the road coming in,
dust recalibrated in the wind,
spiderwort waving its blues over
the day. He padlocks his night
with a lame song, and goes to bedroll.

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Last Night Before Cold Weather

"To begin with there were fewer
people and more grass."
the storyteller

This grass goes bronze with weather,
goes black with darkness,
and the sky goes far, fixed
with cold lights, as one owl
says a thing he likes so well
he says nothing else.

Wood to last the night, and
breath pushing into the night
when I turn from the fire,
squatting, resolute: If there
is a life after this one, I will
come back here to stay
as long as the grass stays.

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