Issue No. 18, Autumn 2016

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
unnamed
unforsaken

and
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
away
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
plains
scalped
fenced farmed within an inch
of forsaken

a bo-peep place now bare
bisonless

mapped now but missing
its mighty herds
unknown
unloved
ununderstood

unbuffaloed.

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
constellations
on a fogged-in flatlands night
black beards bristling
the slickening skin off the gas attendant
ghosts.
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.


René Ostberg is a native of Chicago. Her writing has been featured at Tiny Donkey, The Masters Review blog, Literary Orphans, Thank You For Swallowing, Drunk Monkeys, Booma: The Bookmapping Project, and other places. She still lives in Illinois, outside Chicago, where she enjoys riding her cherry red bicycle all around town and spending time with her three cats. Her website is reneostberg.wordpress.com.