Small Game on the Prairie

by Timothy Murphy

I. Stargazer
Alcor, the jewels in Berenice’s hair,
the Great Nebula in Orion’s sword,
you can’t see them, however hard you stare
from town.  Drive thirty miles, they’re your reward,
sail thirty miles from your congested shore.
I cannot sail with you for I’m inbound
on a green sea of beans and wheat.  Tack round,
trim your mainsail, for moon and wind are more
than you imagine.  Tour the galactic core.
Drink darkness, the first darkness Adam saw
after the Lord enforced his mortal law.
Before Prometheus recreated light
there was a fearful beauty to the night.

II. Merit Badge
I taught astronomy to twelve year olds
frightened at camp.  We watched the Milky Way
wheel over our heads.  Its silver folds
of light will keep us star-struck when we gray.
The moon will move us to the day we die.
The sun often erupts, and cosmic rays
bathe our planet, which teeters, poles awry.
St. John can prophesy the End of Days,
but ice will come and go, the jungles thrive
in seasons, for reasons humans can’t contrive.
I don’t want to hunt ptarmigan in snow
behind some husky.  Give me my Labrador,
my Chinese pheasants, ring-necked just for show
whose toe-hold on this prairie grass could go
the way of prairie chickens on this shore.
Lake Agassiz once stood six hundred feet
over our heads.  Ten thousand years or so
henceforth, when glaciers beat their slow retreat
there will be inland sea, and men will farm
the lakeshore as their planet starts to warm.

III. Mizar and Alcor in Winter

Cirrus dispersed. As a black night grew colder,
clearer, I spied the binary in the handle
of the Big Dipper dangling above my shoulder,
a pinprick twinkling by a blinding candle.
Absent the moon, its boreal corona,
I watched the stars rise east of Ellendale,
Guelph and Ludden, then wheel above Verona
and sleeping friends who farm near Englevale.
A thousand miles of road: I’d shunned the pavement
which bears the burdens I no longer ferry,
the cargo of material enslavement.
Six eagles hunted small game on the prairie.

An Arab prince’s fortunes once were measured
by blooded foals, by sons his wives could dandle,
by tributary quatrains to be treasured
and his eyesight: a pinprick by a candle.


The ‘Mizar and Alcor in Winter’ section of this poem previously appeared in Poetry. Don Share and Christian Wiman selected ‘Mizar and Alcor’ for their January Podcast; and they have some very interesting things to say about it, about 8 minutes into the recording: