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Image by Zbynek Burival


taylor brorby

I Suppose the World

                               finds the prairie drab.

Brown, mottled, void of verticality, no

beauty. Blue grama, with its firecracker

head, sways in the sun, and prairie dogs

bark at my strange steps on dry dirt,

genuflect to the cottonwood, sing with 

the warble of the yellow-bellied 

meadowlark, root myself

like silver sage to a land

that thrums.




     —after John Donne


You ooze and flow over every rock

and crevice, looking for an outlet

into the free market of my soul

whose price you have taken captive

whose beauty you hold ransom.

Why can't we leave you under rock

where pressure and force can hold

you at bay? Toxic, your force is too

much—you slather your hands and 

dap your knuckles as you count with

fisted fury the almighty dollar singing

God Bless America. But I will not

call you blessed. Destroyer of land,

you shall not enter here, the sweet

space of my longing. Stay in place.

Four hundred million years of work

shaped and formed you and another

four hundred million years will

bring you to mighty ruin.




Pump Jack

You plant your feet firm into soil

cock your head back in wild delight

as you plunge and pull crude

from deep within earth's sacred core.

You look right then left, peck hard

like a chicken against scratch

hoping no eyes take out their 

telescope's glint in an excited passion.

You work at a fevered pace like a man

against the assembly line, hurry and bury

and pull and pluck and ram into a place

of subtle refuge.


Your heart beats like mosquitos' wings

furious for the last remaining

drop of blood.


In the beginning was the dust

and the dust crumbled 

and built a foundation

where the bone cracked

and flesh broke and leaves fell

where humus built

and oceans foamed

and the dry land bloomed

roses in midnight glow

orbs on the prairie

In the middle time water

and streams flowed

shined copper coins

glinting in the sun cottonwoods 

steadied to mark the passage

of water from source to mouth

to belly to body to wash us

in the living thing.

In the end time pump jacks

rose on dry land

black snakes slithered

the horizon a bright orange flame

sent ripples of fear when—

bang—the last bird fell.


        —for the Badlands


You were beautiful 

a rough land of rock

awash in fuschia, cobalt, 

sienna. Your spinal cord

of scoria granite and quartz

sturdy glistened in the noonday

sun. Arteries of streams

muddied and brown

pumped through your core,

life in a quiet way. But the world

destroys beautiful things.

What is it like to look over

the horizon and see 

nothing but ruin? Your

permanence lost in the veil

of progress, a veneer of fortune.

On your deathbed you whispered

to me as flares flickered in your

eyes of delight. Tears muddied

my face and you said, Risk hope.

Wildness Return




return to the place

place of longing

longing for the hope

hope of days

days marked by dirt

dirt of familial blood

blood too bitter

bitter dashed dreams

dreams childish things

things caught in the net

net soon lost like a jewel

jewel lost souls wandered

wandered field of clover

clover of kin

kin witness to the ages.



water and wind and soil

rivulets of memory

the prints of my fingertips

soothed the cracks in my skin.



skin brought me back

back to land confused

confused land of greed

greed grew in earth

earth watered by rain

rain across the prairie

prairie of Dakota hearts

hearts pull and pump

pump across time

time too short

short profit of pump jacks.




prairie of childhood wonder

wandering in time

nestle against broken bark

calms my crackling mind.



mind in love with land

land of mica and quartz

quartz glistens in fossils

fossils rooted to sage

sage fades from the prairie

prairie of stubbled horizon

horizon mixed canyons

canyons scented with clover

clover what i want

want in parched land

land where I miss grass

grass where color

color of sienna brown

brown too drab

drab for the fast

fast-moving world.




whorled into wildness

land of longing

strut with grouse

rubble from the Rockies

this place knows love.

         Skip ahead in this issue to an interview with Taylor Brorby on the anthology, Fracture.

          Read these poems and more in Crude: Poems About Place, Energy, and Politics (Ice Cube Press, 2017).


taylor brorby

is a contributing editor at North American Review and sits on the Editorial Board of His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Earth Island Journal, and High Country News. Taylor has received fellowships from the National Book Critics Circle, the MacDowell Colony, and the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. He is at work on three separate books about the Bakken oil boom, growing up gay on the Northern Great Plains, and diabetes and climate change.

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