By James Howard


Lines Written In A Boat On The Prairie

This prairie grass is taller thana man, taller than a manwith a 16-year-old daughter, tallerthan a man with a 16-year-old daughterwho lives 1600 miles away…

I am the last bite left in this little bowl of sky,drifting on the breath of Indian summer.

Up close, the waving grassesturn from their autumnal brownto fading reds and greens and yellows,from grass to dried daisy and yarrow,and a Mexican Hat thrown downfrom its brittle stalk. The day asks,

where are you? My boat lolls in a tiny pondin the middle of the wild and windblownprairie sea of Missouri, while off in Idaho,you are blossoming into a life beyond me.

Two bent reeds curve up over the far banklike question marks, scythes to cut down any answer.The flowers you planted bloomed until you left,Emily. Then the purple asters petrified,the coneflowers sagged in resignation,rending their garments–(well, the asters actuallykept right on going, a sprawling profusion.But there’s something pathetic about it…)

All I’m saying is, I wish you were hereto sit in this boat with meand love this sea of grass more than I do alone.

I would tell you the other one about howthe dots over the two I’s in “prairie”are like two distant birds flying over the word “prairie.”

All smiles, each with an oar, we could slop our wayback to the dock, the sun’s arm over our shoulders.

And we could go out walking, the prairienodding its thousands of heads over us,agreeing with everything we say.

The Shapes of Clouds

I watched the clouds today.And dragonflies who feed upon the skyTo get so blueRefused to give advice on what to do,Or why,Or how to sayAnything. Anything at all.The clouds passed over: Buddha lost an ear,A smoking rocketTurned into a house, and through the socketOf a great skull–a horse’s or a deer’s–The sky seemed small,As any life must look from far away.I watched the clouds today.

–James Howard

James Howard is a Kansas City poet, essayist, and screenwriter. His poetry has been published in many small magazines, and he is currently working on a series of essays for NPR. His screen adaptation of Larry Brown’s “Big Bad Love” was featured in The Directors Fortnight at Cannes and at the Austin Film Festival, 2001. He is married to the writer Penny Krugman.

–Naomi Shihab Nye