Poetry Friday: Wind. Fields. Night. Left. Again. Need.

November 11, 2010 @ 8:42 pm | Filed under:

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.

    Related Posts


14 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Harmony says:

    Wow, that looks incredibly hard to write. What an intense image you created, though! I love this one.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Beautiful images, Lissa!

  3. sarah says:

    Wonderful! Sestinas are difficult, but you did a marvellous job. I especially love the end.

  4. Penny says:


  5. MelanieB says:

    What a picture. I feel like I’m there.

    … if Ma Ingalls wrote poetry.

  6. kmom says:

    I’m back in “Giants in the Earth”….drinking the wind.
    More than a hint of truth to what it was like, I’m afraid.

  7. yvonne says:

    I tried, I really did, to concentrate on the unique form of the poem; but I got so caught up in the story that the form fell to the side. This was a lovely poem. First rate, in my opinion. I never guessed how it would end. Brave writing! You took us there, but first ir felt like you went there.

  8. Joyce Ray says:

    Wow! This is a most powerful poem with striking images. I want to go back and pay attention to the form. The narrative is driving and carries the reader straight to the end, which is so strong. I love the ending.

  9. Karen Edmisten says:

    Wow. Beautiful.

  10. Carlie says:

    Somehow The Dugout put me in a baseball mindset so I was all whiplashed for a minute there when I realized we were THAT kind of dugout. Tee hee.

    I love the real humanity…love for her man but deep frustration, all in one person. Its fresh to hear that from a historical voice. I like the way you wrote from a new character’s voicebox. Never tried that and am a bit intimidated by the idea, but inspired too. Might have to get brave and try it.

    I can’t wait to read this to my husband when he gets home. I think you’re super inspiring. I talk about you all the time. Wish I could meet you someday.

  11. Mary Lee says:

    Love this poem deep into my soul.

    You should know that I grew up in the dry high plains of eastern Colorado. My dad was born there in a sod house and grew up in the Dust Bowl and Depression. I have a whole shelf full of books about the women’s history of the westward movement. Your poem makes me think of Ann Turner’s Grasshopper Summer and shows me the wide open land and sky of home when I close my eyes.

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Mary Lee, thank you. I grew up at the eastern edge of Aurora, Colorado, and worked a couple of summers during college at a wildlife refuge out on the prairie. We had a couple of sod houses on the property and sometimes it was my job to dress up in pioneer costume and give tours to school groups. (Other days, the tours without the costume.)

    I loved it out there on that prairie, with the burrowing owls and the pronghorn. Actually I’ve recently finished a middle-grade novel set on a stretch of prairie just like that (historical, with a streak of fantasy)… 🙂

    It’s so open and beautiful under that enormous sky that it’s easy to romanticize what it must have been like to live there pre-development. But I know it was often a grim and bleak existence for some of those settlers–thus the tone of this poem.

  13. Melissa Wiley says:

    Carlie, thanks so much. It would be lovely if our paths would cross someday!