sna poems #65: snapper prairie

snapper prairie is another remnant prairie that formerly stretched for 2,500 acres in the floodplain of the crawfish river (a tributary of the rock). it floods at times due to the clayey nature of the soil, and there are plants more common to fens present like riddell’s goldenrod, valerian, and an orchid. but of course none of them are out yet.

there’s something very strange about visiting prairies in the middle of winter, when they’re snowfields with desiccated plants poking up out of the white here and there. you know there’s so much life lying hidden and silent beneath that snow just waiting, and the wind blows steadily. it’s difficult to imagine how brilliant the grasses and flowers will look and smell in just a few months. but it’s also good to know this place at a quieter time that is just as much a part of its life cycle(s) as the full bloom of high summer.

a.

this remnant prairie persists

in the crawfish flood-plain

a meadowlark preserves her perch

b.

the tow-headed fringe

encircles desiccated forbs

all waiting for melt

c.

as i sit and rest

two meadowlarks

sing for themselves

sna poems #64: red cedar lake

red cedar lake is a shallow seepage lake in jefferson county. it sits in what the dnr vividly calls “a marshy pocket of the terminal moraine” and is surrounded by eskers and drumlins. the site is waiting for the return of its herons and bitterns.

highlights: 1) a stand of tamaracks (american larches) leading down to the lake had shed their needles but were strangely green-tinted from a distance. on closer inspection, they were wonderfully arrayed with colonies of several species of lichen. 2) walking along the frozen lake, we spied several sites where presumably a small mammal (muskrat? raccoon?) dug thru the ice and snow into the marsh soil, leaving plant matter, mud, and the marsh water exposed. (there was also scat on the ice from one: i’ve spared you a photograph.) an interesting late-winter scene.

a.

thru the bottom-lands

the wet earth becomes sky,

a single mass of damp

b.

the marsh has been dug

and smells of seaweed

birds want spring

c.

here in the tamaracks

the lichen thrive

in crusting splendor

d.

a lone black

crow turns

in an ocean of white

sna poems # 63: smith-reiner drumlin prairie

smith-reiner drumlin prairie is another forty-acre plot, part of which didn’t suffer the plow due to the gravelly and sloped nature of the two drumlins (long glacial hills) present here. the prairie is a remnant of a former 7,000-acre prairie and has a beautiful topography. it was a fun ski up and down these hills that resisted “development.” the lowlands here have been re-planted to prairie, and the flower displays will surely warrant a trip back in the spring and late summer. it was a thawing day, the kind in which the air is as wet as the ground and it becomes difficult to discern the difference between sky and earth, especially in the farm fields that dominate the area in jefferson county.

i don’t want to sound too negative in my description of this area, because i am deeply grateful that it is preserved. but a common theme in visiting a number of state natural areas is that settlers (including my ancestors) didn’t develop certain plots primarily because they were the only areas that couldn’t be made economically productive. it’s hard reading that over and over. but yes, thankfully there are features like the drumlins that kept up the resistance!

a.

full moon like cream

behind the fog-skein

still over the prairie grass

b.

this drumlin a whale-road

and we slide along

its resistant curve

New Short Poem in The Solitary Plover

A short poem of mine has just appeared in the new issue of The Solitary Plover, a journal dedicated to the memory and work of Lorine Niedecker. Niedecker, one of Wisconsin’s great poets of place (the greatest?!), grew up on the same river I did, the Rock, and I’ve grown very fond of her work over the last couple years.

I invite you to have a look at my poem (p. 5), but also all the other poems collected in this issue, as well as the essay on the haiku volumes in Niedecker’s personal library. Good work being done in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin!

A (Very) Short Old English Poem for February

As it continues snowing here in southeastern Wisconsin, it is a prime season for reading Old English poetry, which seems so at home in the cold and frost and dreary skies.

So, I thought I’d send a short Old English poem out into the world. I translated this little poem (mircro-poetry before micro-poetry!) in my chapbook that St. Francis University Press put out several years ago. Its editorial title is “A Proverb of Winfrid’s Time” and is found in an early-tenth-century manuscript copy of St. Bonfiace’s (born “Winfrid”) letters. It’s the earliest independent verse proverb in the English language that we know of. Text and audio below.

.

Old English:

Oft daedlata dome foreldit,

sigisitha gahuem, suuyltit thi ana.

.

Present Day English:

The idle man puts off glory

and fruitful deeds—then dies alone.

If you’re interested in some poetic translations of less frequently translated Old English poems, and some originals, you can pick up a copy of the chapbook on Amazon here.

sna poems, supplementum anthropocenum # 6: lapham peak

lapham peak is the highest point in waukesha county and is part of the kettle moraine state forest. it’s named after wisconsin’s first serious naturalist and scientist, increase a. lapham. as the sign pictured below notes, lapham made the first national weather service forecast from here in 1870. not bad.

a nice spot, even if the observation tower usually accessible here was closed for the winter.

a.

the land was good to increase

as he ranged from its heights right here

to its rivers’ mounded mouths

b.

the tower’s stout wood

bears the trace of frost

a spiral to the winter sky

sna poems, supplementum #16: kettle moraine state forest, lapham peak unit

lapham peak is a unit of the kettle moraine state forest in south eastern wisconsin. this unit of the heavily glaciated forest is named after wisconsin’s first serious naturalist and scientist, increase a. lapham, and contains the highest point in waukesha county.

anyway, it was about -4 F when i arrived for a ski this morning, with the usual blessings of early-morning skiing in sub-zero temperatures: eyelids freezing to one another, toes that go numb if you stop for more than a minute or two, biting cold on the skin during downhill runs. the kind of stuff that a certain kind of cross-country skier actually thinks is kind of fun. my only regret is that i had trimmed back my full beard a week ago; i would have had an amazing ice-beard by the end had i kept it until today. oh well.

a.

the poles’ tuck into snow

sounds like sandhill cranes

calling aloft for their mates

b.

so cold the pen’s ink rebels

as deer make hungry way by windfall

we’re all here, breathing at dawn

c.

these hills like waves

in a choppy sea

frozen in time

s.n.a. poems #62: waterloo prairie

waterloo prairie is a set of two lowland, wetter grasslands along stony brook in jefferson county, wisconsin. a fen with springs and seepages is also present. blue-joint grass and tussocky sedge are common. we found a stand of snags that were unsettling and were girdled at some point. it was strange. the habitats’ integrity is maintained with prescribed burns.

thanks to the dnr for tending this land.

a.

snags line the ditch

and questions for bark:

what was the girdling for?

b.

quiet and soft on the prairie

but mammals press their business

grass clatters at the knee

New poem in Amethyst Review!

Well, hey, I’m very happy to see that a lyric of mine is out from Amethyst Review today!

It’s a shortish poem on a late-night conversation I had with a naturalist friend right before COVID hit—one of the last times I hung out with someone else in a restaurant, with no face covering to boot.

Anyhow, it’s about plant names and our relationships to plants and how the two affect one another. You can read it here, and do stick around the site and read some other folks’ poems too. Thanks for reading!

s.n.a. poems #61: bean lake

bean lake is a seepage lake with a peat bottom. it’s surrounded by tamarack and shrub swamp. the lake usually supports yellow pond-lilies with bulrushes, cattails, and sedges on the edges, none of which were lively at this time of year. the wind, however, was lively, blowing thru the oak and hickory uplands (it was encouraging to see this native complex in the wooded area even if the trees were thicker on the ground than i assume was original), and down thru the tamaracks by the shore. i tried to get a good shot of a tamarack cone, but it just wouldn’t focus close up; oh well.

thanks to the wisconsin dnr for maintaining this patch of earth.

a.

down mud lake road

past the carrion birds

seeking peace

b.

oaks rattle on the knob

and the wind bites bare flesh

winter morning in the swamp

c.

we stand on upland crest

among thorn and hickory

tamaracks sport below