Copyright (c) 1993 First Things 35 (August/September 1993)

Stella and Her Late August Garden

"Get that tomato, there, and that one," she
says as she points with her cane and holds
my arm. We have walked the short space from
the back porch to her late August garden,
tomatoes too ripe, yellow-green peppers
in threes bursting through the dry. Doing
as I'm told, I pick the red ones, snap off
the best peppers and set them, one by one,
on the brown grass. If this moment is as
large as it seems right now, I must
surrender it, give up my self to a will
neither mine nor hers, listen when she says
"When Petey was small, we had a summer this
dry. Get those peppers." No pause between
what was and what is, she points again. We
turn and walk back. Then, trading my arm
for the porch rail, she says, "I can make it
from here." And now I return, as if I am
not alone, to gather her sweet gifts.

Barbara Wuest

The Summer of 1883

Oh, they chose, all right.
This is the New World:
no guarantee, but opportunity.
In one summer three crops,
like beautiful daughters,
have eloped with death's sons.
One with grasshoppers,
one with drought, and one with hail.
Now they have no seed corn.
On their husk pallets
the children who remain
turn in the prison
of their thin ribs.
It's only a matter of time
before the father will
have to take up the saw
and build another coffin.
By light of a candle
the mother washes the entrails
of a wild duck.
In the black cellar of its stomach
she discovers corn
new as morning,
enough to plant.
Look. She holds it up
in the dark bag of her hand,
another opportunity.
She looms tall as a church steeple.
She is holding the sun
in its vast pouch of space.

Jeanne Murray Walker

Main Street, Parkers Prairie (Later Old Town)

They have waited all their lives
for train tracks to lace them to other towns,
and now the word comes down. The Soo Line will
build tracks and a depot, but two miles away.
The Soo Line will pay to move their houses.
They clash like caroms colliding,
some of them long to shoot two miles away,
some of them want to be buried where they are.

For twenty years they have forgiven
one another's lateness, stunning
bad smells, cluttered houses.
They had seen what their odds were
when they first staggered
to Lake Adley through a snow storm
so violent it seemed alive.
They pulled their houses
close as wagons around this wide dirt street,
pitched each roof, the gables,
chimneys, all of it made up
from fear and desperate hope.

And now it's summer, 1903.
Children are eating wild choke cherries
and playing in the skirts of wild grasses.
Across the prairie, the lucky ring of hammers
on railroad spikes. Already the men have put up
an A where the depot roof will be. It stands out
against the sky, a letter at the beginning,
a letter they've voted to love.
Yesterday they invented the name, Old Town,
for the place where they used to suffer,
and now all the meadow-larks-of-the-blood
are singing while the people watch their houses,
the First Baptist Church, the Manhattan Hotel on wagons,
rolling across the prairie toward their future.

Jeanne Murray Walker

Straw Hat

The sun filters
through the filigree
and sprinkles dot lights
upon my face
as I draw musky breath:
each draught,
humid hay,
salty, delicious.

This straw hat
was Dad's.
I had forgotten
until I sensed his smell,
lifted it,
and saw his sweat mark
upon the band.

The scorching sun
fed desperation
and blanked memory.
Thoughtless, I snatched it
from the peg
at the cottage this morning.

I walk upon the beach.
His essence is in my head-
his hat, the lid.

Derrel E. Emmerson