Names Disappearing, Dakota

Day by day the Missouri dropping lower under empty sky
that had drained Okobojo, No Heart Creek, Whiteman Draw; every
night still no moisture. Finally, a season late, the raw
parched air turned and gathered over hardpan above Oahe,
grumbling then breaking open all at once, sending runnels across the flats
to spread and join and drag toward the river’s edge snatches of roots
torn from ground where wind had settled the seeds once. Afterwards
Will and Ellie, tromping in mud, scanned the rutted cow-paths for arrowheads
that might've surfaced—traces of Black Buffalo, Big Foot,
Touch the Clouds—quartz or chert or flint notched, chipped to different
sizes and points for buffalo, deer, pheasant flushed out with a human howl,
maybe with fire lit to the grasses, bitter scent of ash twisting in dust Ellie could smell
like her own name unraveling, as she poked a glittering rock
with her stick, heard the  meadowlarks question change to sputter, last flick
of wings. Whatever she and Will might lift, turn over in their hands, take home,
hide among their things—even relief after rain did not belong to them.

Debra Nystrom, "Names Disappearing, Dakota" from Night Sky Frequencies. Copyright © 2016 by Debra Nystrom. Reprinted by permission of The Sheep Meadow Press.
Source: Night Sky Frequencies (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2016)
More Poems by Debra Nystrom