When Jim asked to marry, in the same breath
he said, there was new land opened up,
south, up the Madison, wide open,
soils deep and rich as Eden, waiting.
I was sixteen with fiddles and accordion
polkaing my nerves, and I saw hope open
from him like the first page in a book
and it was spring, and we were green as mint;
we borrowed dad’s buggy, and went to see
what we might find of Eden, a week-long picnic.
While he drove, I read, but neither believed
those others’ words, more than we believed
in what we had to make with what we found.
It studies with glasses soaked in hope,
even rock is soil,
every wind a shape of sunlight;
everything that grows is golden;
everything that lives is forever.
What we found that midsummer day was blank
of dirty snow in shaded places and wind
raw-fresh off the divide, waving grasses
flat, tossing fronds of sage and frothing
water-wisp and foam across the river.
We paced and staked two half sections under
the first bench by the river, where dirt lay
not deep or rich as Eden but good enough—
where it wasn’t paved with river cobble;
we strode through blooms of wild delphinium,
naming wind-shook willow and choke cherry
to make them ours. We lugged the rocks
and set them, apostrophes to tag the margins
of our homestead hopes. We scratched and marked
a house and yard with toe and rock, opening
south and squared to face and catch God’s sun,
and named it “Scratch” for how we marked it out,
and tell the all of naught we started with.
The first year or so we had our Eden.
Two babies born and two rains marked
on every calendar month we hung on a nail
by the door where we stood to see
green rows, ‘like lines of a poem across a page,’
Jim would say, and so that’s how we saw.
Oats and barley that fall, heavy headed,
slumped in thick swaths behind the mower.
It wasn’t drought that came—though drought we named it—
but just the normal Montana summers, rainless,
the south wind sucking dry every hope.
We prayed. No answer. Just flu and coughs, a
fever worse than drought. It seemed two Gods
tangled games with us; one Who parched
the wind and withered blood just to see
what we might make with heart and muscle, the wit
and nerve we have when we’re born.
And Another who takes and takes, takes
just to watch His dry skit of grief.
The fevers took our boys. Everything.
His saw and hammer noised morning to night
to shape the only thing left to do
but hurt. He’d let no one else touch
that wood, would not look up, wouldn’t stop.
We left in thirty-six, thirty years,
a square home of log in a dirt yard.
The four girls married and gone to Butte,
Seattle, Denver or further off, we followed them,
our only hope for hope. We left
what we couldn’t leave—the boys’ stones
so grave their gravity draws us back to carry
water for the poppies that waver over them.
We scanned the marks we’d made, where nothing was
but wind flagged poppies and these two rocks.
‘It’s where we homed,’ I said against the wind,
with only rocks and grass to hear—and Jim,
who answered ‘It’s where we chose, I guess. What else
of earth or Eden could we hope to have?
“Into a New Land” appears in Have, a manuscript by Lee Robison. We are currently looking for a publisher.