The Buffalo Return to Illinois

This poem was published at Rose Red Review in the fall of 2016. Unfortunately, Rose Red Review has closed permanently and the website has been taken down. I’m really proud of this poem and wanted it to remain “out there” though, so I’m re-publishing it on my site. This poem will also appear in an upcoming book I’m publishing, Heartlandic.

The Buffalo Return To Illinois
René Ostberg

The earth keeps score of what it’s been
and who’s its friend.
That field

             connected to the crumbled lot
where a shuttered Shell fed the chevys of Chicagoland
getawaying west runawaying north disturbing the dust
longsettled on the Illinois blacksoils deep-soaked with
Sauk blood and pioneer sins and Potawatomi bones

knows it was once prairie

long ago when it was flush
with ferality and friends, a million and many loves
cowbirds bobcats kingsnakes coyotes crickets
a place unmapped

it loved nothing so deep and doomperfect
as the buffalo.

It remembers the way it liked to lay itself long thick and level
waiting its black-bearded beloveds, and the way it trembled
when a herd approached hooves shuffling wildgooseneck tails
twitching the prairie’s skin itching tickling with the bisons
nibbling and calves gamboling young and ferocious
chasing extinction out of the milkweed out of the tallgrass
away from the purple clover and smoke.

Every night the field calls for its old friends
buffalo lover friend dream lost gone buffalo come back
into the rumbled wake of auto exhaust
putting the rustle of weeds to blame for the racket
should anybody ask, or on the gas attendant ghosts
and unresolved underearth clashes
of white bloodguilt and redsouled resistance.

But weeds or no weeds guilt or no ghosts the field will not speak
of those years when the buffalo were hunted
only to tell any other earth corners who’ll listen
that as the hunting turned to slaughter and the prairie
turned to a killing field
it drank the blood of its black beloveds
into itself
like milk and rain and
revenge melting

to raw remembrance.

Tallgrass timberland skinned
penny thin Lincoln slim
fenced                              farmed within an inch
of forsaken

a bo-peep place now bare

                             mapped now but missing
its mighty herds


All it wants is to tremble once again
under the weight of a thousand black hooves.

It was a recent October morning.
When the field woke to thunder
groans and hooves. Two dozen black tongues licking
the Illinois air. Black snouts glistening soft like
on a fogged-in flatlands night
black beards bristling
the slickening skin off the gas attendant
The field wept joy in butterflies and coneflowers
welcomed its old friends in rusted
meadow murmurs and the buffalo
lay their glad heavy heads down
to let the old prairie sing a new plainsong
of tallgrasses trembling
and reclamation.