Konza Prairie LTER Featured Artist

When Elizabeth Dodd, University Distinguished Professor in the KSU Department of English, moved from the forested hill country of Ohio and Indiana to tallgrass prairie country 30 years ago, she wanted to immerse herself in her new habitat. She needed to learn about how the ecosystem works and to explore what she came to think of as the aesthetics of the horizontal. Konza Prairie was the primary place where both came together, the scholarly and the artistic. Over the years, Elizabeth has participated in several burns at Konza. Those experiences inspired several of her works, including the poem below and an essay entitled, “Red Buffalo, Black Butterflies” (https://terrain.org/columns/28/dodd.htm). Her work has also been adapted or incorporated by visual artists as well, including "Pulse, 2018" by Geraldine Craig and Nelson Smith, a mixed media commissioned work for the University of Kansas Medical School-Salina (see photo below).

Watershed Burns With Lightning

I. Here comes the vultures. One,                                                
then two, they rip the soft
parts of the carcass, the bison’s eyes and ass.

In the livid instant before lightning struck,
the animal must have felt each follicle
lifted like grass in the light wind.
The moments we see, or do not see.

Did you wake weeping? Yes, of course you did.
Breathe, breathe.

Death yeasts beneath the singular pelt.
The herd has moved on.
Indifferent sunlight slams
against the green, against us all.

II. Late-season flame breached                           
the firebreak, an ecstasy of oxygen.

Who will preserve this
precision of carbon, the way my boots
scuff the char? Some days

I think I look like my mother
in another life.
You might think the same thing,
another mother, another face
already fading from recall. Oh, is that
your foot on the trail, not mine?

Did you write these words while
I was away? I see now, how
I must have stopped moving — 

Memory lies shallow as ash on the flinted soil.

You can discover more about Elizabeth and her work on her website, elizabethdodd.com.