For Poetry Friday this week, another one of mine. Like Lena, it’s an old one, written during grad school. It came to mind recently because I realized I’d borrowed an image from this poem for a newer manuscript.
When I wrote this poem, I wanted to try my hand at a sestina, which is a strict form comprised of six six-line stanzas, each line ending with the same six words but arranged in a different order in each stanza, ending with a final three-line stanza in which every line contains two of the repeated words. Um, did you follow that? It sounds more complicated than it is—it’s a simple form, though devilishly hard to write.
For the narrative of the poem, I wanted the speaker’s reality to reflect the repetition; I wanted to place someone in a situation where a few stark elements would be dominating her world. Thus the prairie homestead setting.
In the Dugout
July 15, 1892
Hard to write with my arm so sore but right now I need
the comfort of this dear book. I’m burning what’s left
of the oil but Lucas he won’t know, he’s out in the fields
and he’s like to stay there all night.
It’s cool in here this evening, a nice wind
singing in the grass on the roof, but again
no sign of rain. Looks like we’re in for it again.
Another dry year. Oh dear Lord how we do need
some rain, with the land dry as burlap, blowing off in the wind
till I don’t believe we’ll have any topsoil left.
And I can’t keep Lucas from straying out night after night
to dig holes between the rows in all our fields
because he thinks if he frees the moisture, the fields
will produce, pushing up corn and potatoes again
like in the good years. I remember the nights
we used to spend catching stars for each other, no need
for neighbors. But those times left
so long ago, carried away by this never-ending wind
and dried up by the summers. And maybe the wind
is what whipped that parched man in the fields,
took his grand schemes and his spark and left
him slack-eyes and broken, muttering those fool words again
and again about rainfall following the plow. All we need,
Lucas says when he’s clear, is a few nights
of good solid rain, the kind to soak a sod roof overnight
which I’m sure wouldn’t take much with this place. The wind
shrieks in through a dozen holes as it is. I need
a new cloth to hang above the table so bits of field
won’t sift into the food again.
But that muslin I used for my sling was all I had left.
I know it’s wrong but I’ve got so I wouldn’t care if he left.
The way he flew at me all wild last night
because I killed a broody hen again.
We got to eat, don’t we? Can’t live on dirt and wind
and we certainly ain’t getting anything else from those fields.
But—sometimes I think maybe that is all I need—
just what we’ve got left: earth and wind.
One night I’ll go out and plant my own self in the field
and drink wind till I’m full again, with no burning need.
This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Scrub-a-Dub Tub.
Poetry Friday: The Water Is Wide
Poetry Friday: What Is the Grass?
Poetry with kids, Storified
My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months