Two Poems from Ellaraine Lockie’s “Where the Meadowlark Sings”

Widely published author Ellaraine Lockie is known for narrative poems that capture the unique character of a place and its people. In her eleventh chapbook, Where the Meadowlark Sings (Encircle Publications, 2015), she returns to her native Montana to honor the land that her parents and grandparents farmed. This prizewinning collection includes humorous character sketches, elegies for towns hollowed out by economic collapse, and love songs to the landscape that revives her spirit. In “After Montana”, a poem near the book’s end, she begins, “The guys in the California coffee shop/say I look like I’ve been with a new lover,” which prompts a tour de force of erotic descriptions of her communion with the prairie:

…I could tell them how annual equals cutting-edge new
When wind licks with different tongues each time
Runs a reborn hand over your hills and gullies
And a bee with black lingerie wings humps the blossom
of a Canadian thistle…

Lockie reveres but doesn’t sentimentalize her local history. In “Facing Family Tradition” she recalls her family’s racist slang for Brazil nuts, and suggests that although it was due to ignorance and inexperience rather than malice, it’s still a legacy she has to atone for. Several poems explore the isolation and hardship faced by prairie women, as well as their resourcefulness. She kindly shares two of these poems below.

Abandoned Garden

Lying on the long side of time
a partially buried Meissen vase
Crackled like paper crunched in the fist of an accident
Its mouth growing sweet peas and pansies
A pioneer woman’s attempt to civilize an untamed land
As though she were out gathering a bouquet
for a quilting bee in her homestead house
when some tragedy befell her

The house now as much a ghost as she
Yet she lingers in these immigrant flowers
that survive encroachment from native clover
blue flax, sage and morning glory
Butterflies that pollinate from one to the other
arbitrating the struggle
Like the diplomacy of a woman
caught between a hardcore German husband
and the America around them
Between their children and the razor strop
that hung on a toolshed door

She lives in the flames of poppies she planted
that have burned through a century
of hailed-out crops, drought and grasshoppers
Today the prairie breeze breathes the same scent
as her heirloom handkerchiefs
The sweet violet toilet water sacheted in drawers
and splashed on after a well water wash

She lives in the pressed purple yellow
pansies that look out from
a grandmother’s diary and recipe books
Butterflies, as they take flight
in the draft of turning pages

Winner of the Women’s National Book Association Poetry Competition, 2013

Seasons of Extreme

The husband tells her
she can buy the coat when an 8 fits
But her 14 can’t do the math
fast enough for this fashion season
She dreams of the hood’s faux fur trim
haloing the Very Berry lips
she wears to her women’s book club
When he thinks she’s visiting a rest home

He prefers the company of his old pickup truck anyway
Craves that control with the flex of one foot
But his hands, how they turn tender
at the touch of steering wheel
Unlike high octane’s stranglehold on the environment
which he considers liberal bullshit
Believes what his bar buddy said in the Mint
That cosmic rays from the stars cause global warming

He’s as out of touch as the antique tools he collects
Even the apple tree is budding in January
The cedar waxwings already mating
And the mountain bears haven’t yet hibernated
They all know without TV, newspapers
or computers that things are drying out
heating up, bubbling over

There could be Missouri River floods
County water rationing by summer
A winter wheat fire any day now
An ice storm in the bedroom

Winner of Chicagoland Social Conscience Award, 2013

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