Lost, 1867

I’ve been compiling a collection of poetry about immigrant women’s experiences in the Midwest. I can’t possibly use in novels all the compelling tidbits I find when doing historical research! When something calls to me, but it won’t work in whatever book I’m writing, I often channel it into a poem instead.

Two years ago one of my poems, Facing Forward, was chosen for an exhibit called “Mark My Words” at the Pump House Regional Arts Center in La Crosse, WI. The exhibit organizers selected twenty poems and twenty artists, and asked each artist to create a piece in response to one of the poems. I was thrilled to be included! (You can see the poem and accompanying artwork HERE.)

The Pump House

Last spring the good folks at the Pump House put out another call for entries. “Mark My Words Again: Artists Respond To Short Poetry” was more of a challenge because I don’t write many short poems, but I managed to submit a suitable entry:

Lost, 1867
From the train, the prairie looked flat as a cracker.
She didn’t learn until settling on their new place
that the land sank and swelled like a restless sea;
that the tall grasses, gently beckoning, hid swales that swallowed
the silk bonnet blown from her head while they wagoned to town,
the plump ruffed grouse she’d hoped to shoot for Sunday dinner,
and—as she pegged out wet laundry, humming a hymn—
the child who toddled from her side, chasing a butterfly.

In this poem, I wanted to reflect how life has both changed and stayed the same since 1867. While the loss of a bonnet may feel irrelevant today, the loss of a child evokes timeless emotions.

My poem was given to an artist, who had three months to create a partner piece. I didn’t see the results until the exhibit opened.

Mark My Words KAE

A reception to celebrate “Mark My Words Again” was held at the Pump House last month, and it was a fascinating evening. The poems selected for the exhibit were diverse, and so was the artwork. Some artists chose to illustrate the poem they were given; others used an idea in the poem as inspiration to move in a new direction.

My poem was given to talented photographer Jerry Weigel.

Mark My Words Again photo

Jerry said, “The poem reminded me that we only find new things when we are lost.  Like the child chasing the butterfly in 1867, this little guy lost himself in the vine tunnel just to see what was on the other side.”

Heartfelt thanks to Lynne Valiquette and the “Mark My Words Again” committee not only for selecting my poem, but for mounting such an extraordinary exhibit!

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9 Responses to “Lost, 1867”

  1. Eileen Daily Says:

    Kathleen, I’m so glad to read the poem since I couldn’t come to the reception. A vivid scene.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Thanks, Eileen. Sorry our paths didn’t cross, but as it worked out, we had to leave the reception early so we could head toward Minneapolis. Hope we can catch up in person some time before too long!

  2. Labyrinth-Living Says:

    Reblogged this on Labyrinth.Living and commented:
    My talented friend Kathleen Ernst wrote this evocative poem which won a show at the Pump House “Mark My Words” exhibit.

  3. Arletta Dawdy's BlogArletta Dawdy Says:

    I enjoyed both poems and the artists’ interpretations in pencil and photography. I think it would interesting to reverse the process and have writers work from the visual art piece.
    You continue to grow and amaze!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Arletta, I’m glad you enjoyed the poems. I still credit that workshop we shared with nudging me back into poetry, for which I am grateful! The Arts Center actually did the reverse last year–poets responding to art–and I didn’t apply. I wasn’t sure how I’d do. However, as I saw all the partnerships this year, I summoned a bit more courage, and if the opportunity presents itself, I may give it a try.

  4. nancyloswald Says:

    It’s a beautiful poem–leaves an impression like wagon wheels in the prairie soil.

  5. Rosi Says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I was very touched by both the poem and the photographs. Just wonderful.

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