What Had Been
Summer’s jewels: coneflowers
and purple asters, oxeye and blazing star
studding the Indiangrass.
Not perfect, though as close as nature
comes to it where I live.
Biting insects among the dragonflies
and damsels, redwings nesting in the cattails.
Cloudy days and clear.
Need I mention the next season?
The small fires of autumn, maples
brash as their cousin aspens.
How egrets and herons fled winter’s frieze.
Were they gods or men?
The Prometheans who arrived with torches
the afternoon I found myself on a trail
that wound through wetland to prairie.
Ignited, the bluestem and panic grass
burst into flames—red-hot, then hotter orange—
consuming the skeletal remains
of summer’s profusion. What had been.
In one altering event, all of it
going up: seeds, ashes stinging my eyes.
And in the aftermath, a wasteland
scorched as by war. Haunted by those
we’ve lost. There, too, underground,
what I’d nearly forgotten—
the deep roots of switchgrass
beneath webs of rhizomes and bulbs.
Was it to those anchors I cried,
Hold fast? Then went on.
Today it was grave and soft,
but not perfectly calm, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote
of Grasmere, amusing herself by imagining
that a light breeze on an English morning
started out under water. Then rose
and rose to make a circle on the surface.
Another spread out, like a peacock’s tail.
If not a mere, what shall I call the shallow lake
I claim? My Midwestern mere
not perfectly calm today either.
From its netherworld a largemouth explodes
straight up into air.
I am not alone, I want to say.
But who’s listening?
The upstarts I almost crush underfoot?
Truly named, they flee by hopping
into waist-high grass, the merest ones—
that word again. For small, this time.
Or only. No more than.
Myself in the lake’s dim mirror.
Allison Funk is the author of six books of poetry, including, most recently The Visible Woman (Parlor Press, 2021). In 2022 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Best American Poetry, among other publications. She taught Creative Writing for over 25 years at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.