Empty

A year or so ago, the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville announced plans for an online literary journal.   I submitted five poems to the editor, and was pleased when they were accepted as a collection.  These poems are part of a larger collection I’ve been slowly assembling about 19th-century  immigrant women, and the varied experiences they had in the Upper Midwest.

Publication was delayed—not sure why—and the Driftless Review evolved into a blog, instead of a website.  Nonetheless, I’m delighted to announce that my poems have been posted.  If you’d like to take a look, the easiest thing to do is Google “Driftless Review” and my last name, which will get you to the proper string.

For now, I’ll share one of them here.  “Empty” was inspired by my time at Old World Wisconsin both in content, and in style.  On the surface, it’s the story of an immigrant woman.  But I tried to tell her story with images of her things, and her place, instead of with her own words.  When I was a curator, I might have tried to tell the same story by carefully choosing artifacts, and their placement within an historic structure.

An unidentified woman.

Empty

The immigrant trunk, where she’d tried to tuck
the essence of home—an embroidered collar,
her mother’s prayer book—among the fry pans
and hatchels and sturdy boots.

The cradle, after her daughter died.
Faded blue blanket gone for a shroud,
no lingering scent of urine or milk,
no echo of chortles or cries.

His seat at the table, too, more and more often
as the wheat was devoured by chinch bugs,
so thick on the ground that her boots crunched
as she walked the scoured field.

The jug as well, cast aside on the threshing floor
meant for sprawling piles of golden grain on canvas,
the measured tread of oxen or the rhythmic beat of flails,
baskets brimming with winnowed wheat.

And the cracked blue crock on the pantry shelf
where she tucked coins earned
selling her noodled geese on market day.
Empty now, set a bit off-angle, as if ashamed.

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