Literary Hook: Capturing the elegance of prairie grasses

By Christine Swanberg

Author and Poet

This is a time of year that I find invigorating. This year, to celebrate the fall season, you might want to take a road trip up the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. As well as magnificent river vistas on the Wisconsin side, you can enjoy the winding roads through high hills and valleys, ending up at The Inn at Lonesome Hollow in Soldiers Grove, Wis.

The native grasses there—and along the way—reminded me of our native American roots. From the forests and bluffs, it’s easy to imagine life in the Kickapoo Valley in ages past.

Some of us wild gardeners have chosen to use these native prairie grasses in our own yards. At this time of year, they sway in the wind and really do dance. Those grasses inspired this poem, which was published in a different form many years ago here and in Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity, and in this pared-down form in Mid-America Review.

Maybe you love these grasses and cultivate them, too. Even if you don’t garden with them, you might appreciate them along the road or in parks such as Rock Cut or Blackhawk Springs, and our own Rock River walkway, where they grow with a mind of their own, bursting and changing colors at this time of year.

When I looked up the scientific names for the grasses that grace my back yard and Midwest prairies, I was amazed to discover their scientific names were so elegant, adding yet another dimension of beauty and appreciation. I find that when a writer does a little research, sometimes that research can add the finishing touch to the piece. I discovered a sense of hope in the prairie grasses, which seem to do their own thing no matter what else is going on in the world.

Amidst Prairie Grass

Muhlenbergia filipes.

Pennestum setacei Rubrum.

Miscanthus sinesis Gracillimus.

Even the names are benedictions here.

Fall with its drama of transformation,

its salutation to the sun. Indian Summer:

golden spears and reeds rippling Ravenna grass.

Pampas grass. Frosted grasses

rooted in pungent black earth.

Riverways of roots and tubes.

Mondo grass returning to its source.

Seedheads bursting.

A single seed

deep within in a great labyrinth unseen:

So much goes on without us.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the October 28-November 3, 2009 issue

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