Odessa by Patricia Kirkpatrick

Poet Patricia Kirkpatrick reads three poems from her collection, Odessa, published in December 2012 by Milkweed Editions.

Near Odessa

Near the end of summer.

Wheatfield with lark. With swift,

longspur, and sparrow. I see the birds

opening tails and wings

above grasses

and hidden nests.

Soybeans with bells, yellowing, green

tassels of corn, geese

again and again.

I see the birds

but wind takes all the sound.

Small towns are reduced to chains or storefronts,


Almost to the river called a lake, gray stones of water,

dammed, white-capped, hinge

between states.

Some fields are so gold they seem to be singing.

The gold fields lie down, flat but not empty,

and will be harvested later with blades.

Near Odessa

I come to a place where the end is beginning.

Where the light is absolute, it rises. 



for JS

I drove through Sacred Heart and Montevideo,

over the Chippewa River, all the way to Madison.

When I stopped, walked into grass—

bluestem, wild rose, a monarch—

I was afraid at first. Birds I couldn’t identify

might have been bobolinks,

non-breeding plumage.

I am always afraid of what might show up, suddenly.

What might hide.

At dusk I saw the start of low plateaus, plains

really, even when planted. Almost to the Dakota border

I was struck by the isolation and abiding loneliness

yet somehow thrilled. Alone. Hardly another car on the road

and in town, just a few teenagers

wearing high school sweatshirts, walking and laughing, on the edge

of a world they don’t know.

Darkness started as heaviness in the colors

of fields, a tractor, cornstalks, stone.

I turned back just before the Prairie Wildlife Refuge

at Odessa, the place I came to see. Closed.

Empty. The moon rose. Full.

I was driving Highway 7, the “Sioux Trail.”

I could feel the past the way I could in Mexico,

Mayan tombs in the jungle at Palenque,

men tearing papers from our hands.

Three hours still to drive home.


After Odessa

Why is it delusion to regret

when everything is given
and given, never ceases

but is changed

what has been lost

the grass, pristine
water and shards

before the corn was wheat

but sanity to trust

fields burned to save
the earth I did

truly love you         my love
for you lost

in what has not yet happened



Reprinted with permission by Milkweed Editions, from Odessa by Patricia Kirkpatrick. Copyright © 2012 by Patricia Kirkpatrick.