Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Morning Thanks--"Nearby the Graves"

Last week, when I read Liane Ellison Norman's poem "The Trees," I liked it so much, I bought her book, Breathing the West: Great Basin Poems. But first I read a bit about her--graduate of Grinnell, a peace warrior for most of her life, a child of the West.  It was all too attractive, and I amazoned, despite the fact that in the last six months I've gotten rid of hundreds of books.  I just can't help myself.  

Breathing the West came yesterday, Liane Ellison Norman's new book of poems.  

I love fiction, even try to write it. I can sit here for hours at the keys, but if I had infinite choice, I'd pound out only stories. I don't know why exactly. We are what we are.

But these stories of Ms. Norman's, rendered as poems, are real, and sometimes--often, in fact--imagination comes up short to what really happened.  In Breathing, she tells the stories of parents' lives with blessed care.  

Here's one story, the truth, set in the long eastern shadows of the Rockies, where the land is flat and seemingly eternal.

Nearby the Graves

On the prairie swept by wind
Mother's blue-baby sister died.

Her father built a tiny coffin.
Her mother lined it with pretty

fabric, buried the baby in the field.
My father's journal says they found

the homestead in Roscoe, Colorado
as they drove back west--

Washington DC to Missoula, Montana.

Setting, character, backstory, right?  Just a couple of ordinary folks remembering lives gone by, stopping off at a place where there just happens to be some significant family history, stopping, probably, to pay their respects.

They knocked on the farmer's door,

who showed them the little grave
he'd carefully plowed around

They return to find a man in the middle of the seemingly endless plains who profound respect for human life won't allow him to plow up a single grave that's been, it seems, forever left behind. 

That's a real story, enough to hold you through the rest of a day's journey.  But there's more--here's the whole last section of the poem, all together.

They knocked on the farmer's door,

who showed them the little grave
he'd carefully plowed around

all those years, asked if he could move it
to nearby the graves of his children.

There's death in the poem, a lot of it; but there's ever more life than death, and that's what makes me pause this morning to note how much life there is in a single anecdote Ms. Norman took the time to remember for her parents, an aunt who never lived to see a single day, and, finally, for us.  

Sometimes amid the superheroes, the fantasies, the gaming, it's not particularly hard to start to believe in the death of literature; but then you stumble on a poem, a little story, a memory, a revelation, and you know for a fact that human beings will forever try to make sense out of life--and when they do, they'll tell stories like this one, stories of woe and wonder, of respect and love and perseverance, stories that model how to live.

And it really happened somewhere out on the Plains.

Liane Ellison Norman also lost a child, a daughter, who was 36.  You don't have to suffer what she did to love the little story she tells in "Nearby the Graves," but somehow knowing she has makes the story even more rich with human character.

This morning I'm thankful for that forever nameless Colorado farmer.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Thank You.

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