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Herd Of Buffalo Crossing The Missouri On Ice

If dragonflies can mate atop the surface tension
of water, surely these tons of bison can mince
across the river, their fur peeling in strips like old

wallpaper, their huge eyes adjusting to how far
they can see when there's no big or little bluestem,
no Indian grass nor prairie cord grass to plod through.

Maybe because it's bright in the blown snow
and swirling grit, their vast heads are lowered
to the gray ice: nothing to eat, little to smell.

They have their own currents. You could watch a herd
of running pronghorn swerve like a river rounding
a meander and see better what I mean. But

bison are a deeper, deliberate water, and there will 
never be enough water for any West but the one
into which we watch these bison carefully disappear.

—William Matthews

from Selected Poems and Translations 1969-1991, 1992
Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY

Copyright 1992 by William Matthews.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin from Selected Poems and Translations 1969-1991, 1992. Copyright 1992 by William Matthews. For further permissions information, contact Ronald Hussey, Permissions Manager, Houghton Mifflin, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

William Matthews (1942–1997) was the author of 11 poetry collections, including Time and Money (1996), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Search Party: Collected Poems of William Matthews, was published posthumously by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2004.

Learn more about William Matthews at The Poetry Foundation.