Every now and then a member of the NDQ editorial board reaches out and tell me how much they liked this or that contribution. It should go without saying that just like most of our readers, editorial board members generally enjoy most of what’s in the Quarterly. Even so, every now and then someone feels like a poem, story, or essay speaks to them in a distinct way.
This has happened with two poems from Lindy Obach and this prompted me to re-read them and appreciate them all the more. Both “Red Poppies” and “Quieting the Honking” look through intergenerational windows to speak to the present. “Red Poppies” resonates with yesterdays inauguration in almost uncanny ways. “Quieting the Honking” evokes Biblical parables to remind us to hold fast to those we love.
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For my Ukrainian grandmother, whose field of red poppies was set ablaze by federal agents because a neighbor reported the opium.
It is 1949, and I see her.
I see her nearing forty-five years old
and having seen it all.
I see her skin, a walnut.
I see her streaked silver hair
pulled into a loose bun.
I see her leaning into the wind, long pants and boots,
a pistol at her sturdy hip.
I see her watching the official men set fire
to her field of red poppies.
I see her watching them with narrowed eyes,
lips a rigid line.
I see her scowling.
This is not a prescribed burn.
I see her chin tilt upwards to watch
the dark smoke sully the summer sky.
I see her resolving to replant that field
of red poppies in the fall,
dropping the little seeds from her broad palms,
out in plain view, out in the full sun.
I see her knowing she has to wait for
October’s hard frost, knowing
the seeds need to be exposed to just one
North Dakota wind-chilled night,
and then the red will root and bloom and span.
Finally, she is left alone after the last official sedan drives off,
so I see her kick through that smoking square of burnt,
and now I see her smiling.
I know she’ll sleep tonight dreaming
of pistols, of men, of red poppies.
I know she knows how precious
these black ashes are.
Quieting the Honking
My father tells this story:
One late July afternoon in the 1970s, his mother’s
geese were dipping their necks into the crick,
and thunderheads rolled in
across the perfect day.
Suddenly, the sky was very close, very dark.
In the swirling gray and flashing lightning,
only some of the geese made it back home.
Months later, my father was tilling
land out in the south corner.
There, bedded down in the switchgrass,
were the lost geese.
With the bucket of his tractor at low mast
and the engine idling barely at first gear,
my father herded the lost geese
onto the narrow scoria road
and back to the farm.
Home closed in.
The lost geese’s honking grew louder and louder.
The geese in the yard heard this,
and they came running.
When the two groups of geese met,
the ones who never left home
and the ones who were gone for so long,
they quieted their honking and linked necks.
They stayed that way for hours:
their necks threaded together,
their breastbones touching,
their hearts beating against one another.
I tell this story:
I have been lost before.
I have been so far from home I couldn’t tell you
which way was east, or south. Nothing looked familiar.
I have been away. Bedded down
in tall, strange grass, long neck
against the earth. Scared into silence.
I have someone at home who misses me so,
and who waits to hear my honking
come up the drive as the yard lights close in.
And when the blue front door closes behind me,
One of us will step forward
and lay her neck against the other’s,
and we’ll stay that way
Our hearts beating against one another.
Lindy Obach was raised on a farm in western North Dakota and has been living, teaching, and writing in South Dakota for 15 years. She is the author of North of Zenith (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and her poetry has appeared in the South Dakota Review, Midwestern Gothic, Pasque Petals, and Action, Influence, and Voice: Contemporary South Dakota Women. She is a board member of the South Dakota State Poetry Society, where she directs the annual chapbook contest, and she teaches English and Citizenship at the Center for New Americans in Sioux Falls.