Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind, John Everett Millais (1892)


Ring Thunder Road

Four eagles carve the carcass of a cow.
Hunting is such hard work that scavenging
is a sweet option when you’re ravaging
this short grass prairie, virgin to the plough.

Healthy cattle are grazing everywhere
oblivious to their comrade near this road,
its cause of death?  Likely an overload
of snow, the North forcing its polar air.

For me hunting is just impassioned sport
but eagles, a matter of death or life.
Talons are scimitars, the beak a knife.
They wheel above us where the gods hold court,

able to spy a cock quailing in grass
where hunted, hunter, rooster and eagle pass.


When a Chinook wind blows
down from the Black Hills’ knees,
it warms twenty degrees
and melts the prairie snows.

Badlands bask in the sun,
and blue jays’ hearts are lifted
where Cedar Butte lay drifted.
I go with dog and gun,

winded but wintry warm,
walking the draws and creeks
a pheasant hunter seeks
on my friend Huber’s farm.

Fargo lies deep in snow,
freezing or far below.

White River Crossing

“Rain on the just and the unjust.”
—Matthew 5:45

On the south-facing slopes
so infernally dry
the yuccas spear the sky,
and all the righteous hopes
of ranchers are in vain
for a grass-growing rain.

To the north-facing slopes
cling juniper and spruce.
Huge as a six-month moose
a twelve-point mule deer lopes
through the riparian wood,
and God sees it is good,

two worlds four miles apart
where I just left my heart.

Timothy Murphy, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, died on June 30 at his home in Fargo, North Dakota. His books include Very Far North (2002), Mortal Stakes and Faint Thunder (2011), and Devotions (2017). Requiescat in pace.

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Published in the March 9, 2018 issue: View Contents
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