I Will Teach the Prairie How to Dance by Michael Grant Smith

As a child I believed the aged were born old. I wondered if trees created wind by beating the air with their leaves. One evening I asked my father which part of a nighttime sky was clouds–the lightest or the darker? He was a mild man but his answer was angry.

A half-century later I follow the map of raised pale lines on my skin until I arrive at this flat, toast-golden wasteland. Buffalo grass and blue grama flow around me like water. Here I’ll cut the wave to its nub and scour the stubble for good measure.

Old growth makes way for new. Root and fiber must unknit that which binds the soil. I whisper into the dirt until my voice pushes a song so deep: release and share this life anew.

All bones are hollow, mine more than most. My terror is of frost or drought; of blight and pest. Uncertainty curses gardeners to their jails made of rain.

My spade slices Earth’s flesh. Water bleeds its path to dissipation. Elbow-deep, I grasp a root that throbs in my grip. I’ve never felt a pulse, not even my own.

I bear my prize far into night. In darkness rises the path until my shins burn and I breathe shattered glass. Up here, the world’s mantle leans hard against its crust, which lacks the layer of loam that fosters second chances. Exhausted, I sleep, the root nestled within my body’s curve.

When dawn discovers me, I am recumbent. A sapling has emerged through split ribs and dusty muscle; its lattice screens my vision. The camp overlooks yesterday’s verdant meadows, and soon enough the jackrabbit and fox will seek my shade. Branch, leaf, fruit, seed–I must be patient. No tree of so few hours ever made the prairie sway.


Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, Ghost Parachute, Longshot Island, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Riggwelter, and elsewhere. He is an editor at Longshot Press. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

Image: Hugues Adamo