Called to the edge of the bluff, off path, back
turned from a wild prairie, I’m drawn forward
not by the eagle skimming the updrafts—
a broad lasso circling above its prey—
but the Missouri River below it.
How near the rim is near enough? How soft
its lip? How deep its maw? These running shoes
are useless for holding to damp grasses,
shifting earth, indifferent to a misstep.
I hear the breeze behind me chanting
through the ephemerals—trout lily &
trillium—stirring as if to call me
back. My only answer: “Wait! Not yet!”
A swollen current churns its carrion
& hastens east across the flood plain flats
gathering into it what’s not held down,
& sometimes what is, to beat its gorgeous
heart against the Mississippi muscling
from the north at St. Louis, its tempo
And, as one—partners spinning
their wild dance downstream, it sojourns among
swallow-tailed kites spinning rings above it.
Water swirling, it fans out like a dress
in a closing spin, across the Delta—
& spent, pushes to the sea, the salt air
mingling at its mouth, before it’s swallowed
by the Gulf, seeding these clouds above me.
Somehow, it’s all come back here, circling.
I’ve lost myself to the pattern of life—
& stop these thoughts nearly at the seam where
sky & bluff meet, where I would not dare dip
a toe, listening, instead, for what I’d
rather see—& crouching low, hear the sure
murmurings of the snowmelt squeezing through
the limestone face & feeding the waters
to our quickening—carry us, bear us,
shelter us alongside them. But we—we
jump path soon enough, our own animus
untamed, wakening, compelling us
downstream awhile to agitate against
time, to dance gleeful in the joyous dark,
before the surge slows & the burst recedes
somewhere in the debris of the muddy
bottom lands, where we must find our footing.
That’s what comes to mind.
And some late spring day,
we will pivot seeking more solid ground—
find the path—& then consider what is
rooted across the way in prairie earth.
Cortney Daniels received an MFA in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop & has published in Intro, Carolina Quarterly, Mississippi Valley Review, Well-Versed, & others. Poems are forthcoming in a new edition of Well-Versed & Anti-Heroin Chic. Now retired, she dances, bikes, quilts, volunteers, travels, & writes poetry & non-fiction. She lives in Columbia, MO, with her spouse & two cats.