From 'Eye of Witness' (4): 'The Nature Theater of Oklahoma' (revisited)

[Originally published in Khurbn & Other Poems (New Directions, 1989), “The Nature Theater of Oklahoma” fell out of general circulation when I incorporated the title poems of that book along with Poland/1931 and The Burning Babe, into Triptych (2007). The principal reference points in the present set are a season spent in Oklahoma and the title of a chapter in Kafka’s Amerika, very much in my mind throughout that sojourn. They will appear again in Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader, to be published in early 2013 by Black Widow Press. (J.R.)] 


someone arrives from tishimingo

it is practically florida

it is practically the calories of summer

plin plin is the name for tea
in oklahoma

the curtains rise & fall

the shadow of a mirror
in a yellow lake

the shadow of a town called shootout

it is practically the way we are

it is practically the way the car toots
down the draw,
the car toots down the draw


the memory of god
is god         the cauliflower glistens
like a handkerchief
torn from the sun
& flailing ice
& oranges
that conjure up her image
step into the light,
pale sister,
let the flies walk up your arm
in search of honey,
evading the tiny hairs, their world
the mirror of your blue milk,
daughter of the sun,
the buds are red for you in oklahoma,
the birds are blue


pawnee bill rides bareback
into my smeared horizon

myths of soft eels


they knock us off our feet

a black man
with his fist shoved up
a cow’s ass

what a fancy smile!

what perfect choppers!

like the hands of god
in oklahoma


like the hands of god
in oklahoma
angels pray for you

the choirs wear
white robes         the dancers
prance in         leather
setting the final derrick up

the road to cowboy country,
scarcely a league away,
strides covered by a giant’s gumshoes,
plumb forgotten,

the land returns to
verdure         & the country
turns around
& names itself



“as simple as a dollar bill
“in oklahoma

the ides of march in shawnee

in the middle of a prairie
birds go nuts

they make a fallacy of fables


the fist sinks into its second face
the one seen in the corner
of the bar, the golden tooth
reflected in the mirror

a state of grace, a place
called oklahoma


“you are a bear” she said
& he became
a bear, he wore it
like his skin
the lost look
the interior grace
that surfaced on him,
he was faceless too
& walked inside
his footsteps half
an animal who loves
his other half,
the silence of the moon
over his head,
this is the mark the man’s arm
scribbles, darkly,
on the cave wall,
in the cave,
in oklahoma


the nature theater of oklahoma
opens         its little flags
flap recklessly
against the southern wind

a history of poetry
a history of jesus christ
a history of tishimingo

the cowhand plays
at coon can, holds
the final heart

the horse called kafka
cannot prance or turn

“I love your boots” she says

a history of where we are


in the heart of the indian territory of oklahoma

a chicken in every coop
a jesus in every garage

a tiger on every bush

the state of nature
in the state of oklahoma

old men & febrile women
in white shawls
that the grandfathers stitch with hexagrams

of a star as black as tar

o my oklahoma jesus