I’ve never seen the homestead
with a fresh coat of paint—
the wind strips it away
before it has a chance to dry.
My great-grandmother planted cottonwoods
to keep the wind out, but it always snuck through,
it has whipped across the plains
for as long as that part of the world has been flat.
But when they finally grew tall enough,
Her husband only said
There’s getting to be so many trees
you can’t hardly see out anymore.
His father decided not to return home
one morning in 1884.
When he stepped off the train
at the end of the line, the first thing he noticed
was the wind never stopped blowing.
He walked the rest of the way
to a town sprung up along a stagecoach line
under the jagged gaze of Crow Butte.
He learned its name from the Crow Indians,
now gone, who scrambled up its side
one long ago night with a band of Sioux in pursuit.
The Crow had stolen their horses and mules.
To escape they climbed down the cliff,
clinging to split blankets in the dark.
Dust and cheatgrass arrived
a little while after.
My grandmother was born
five years later in 1935,
during a storm of blowing grit
Strong enough to strip the skin from your face.
The phantom prick of cheatgrass seeds
in the parched schoolyard
haunted my grandmother’s ankles,
chasing her indoors to bow over
scarred desks and dusty slates.
She won a scholarship and left
When you can’t see Crow Butte,
you’re getting too far from home.
The first thing I noticed was that cheatgrass
never comes out of cotton socks
once it decides to stay.
We threw away the pair I wore
while playing in the fields that summer.
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