Homestead in Dakota Territory


Dakota Territory, 1884

Already, winter makes a corpse of things.
Snow reshapes what ice has taken. You’ve lost

interest in letters. So let sunrise come.
Let smoke grow darker by the light of day—

what I could spare of you I’ve burned already.
The fencepost needs repair. Let sunrise come.

Let panels of light make thirsty the ice-
caked stump of oak. Let the sky go empty

as December’s intimations, when in snow
we fashioned ourselves side by side as fallen

angels: yours, the greater wingspan; my outline
barely reaching. Daybreak. I lay my body down

in powder. Roots torque up through the chest’s
blankness, snarl of knots unloosed. What comes,

on parting you insisted, will come. Ice splits,
in the distance. What breaks will break. Let it.

–Shara Lessley

We all have ambient narratives in us, those story lines that speak in particular to us. This poem draws on a very powerful narrative thread in me that has been present in my life for as long as I can remember. Maybe having pioneer progenitors leaves an imprint in that supra-DNA sense.

Lessley came to my attention by way of her entertaining re-evaluation essay about Milton on Rumpus. If you are a Milton fan, take a peek at this.

Shara Lessley is the recipient of the Stegner, O’Connor, Tickner and Diane Middlebrook poetry fellowships, the “Discovery”/The Nation prize and a John Ciardi scholarship from Bread Loaf. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Cincinnati Review, Black Warrior Review, and Fence, among others.