Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What You Know First

Patricia MacLachlan
engravings by Barry Moser 1998

Barry Moser's dark engravings call to mind Dorthea Lange's migrant family photographs.  They fill the spaces of MacLachlan's sparse verse- a child's lament at having to leave the only home she's known on the prairie.

There's fear, and defiance and sadness captured in the voice of a child.

I could
If I wanted
Tell Mama and Papa that I won't go.
I won't go, I'll say,
To a new house, 
To a new place,
To a land I've never seen.

I could
If I wanted 
Tell them to take the baby-
He won't care.
He doesn't know about the slough
Where the pipits feed.
Where the geese sky-yak in the spring.
That baby hasn't even seen winter
With snow drifting hard against fences,
And the horses breathing puffs like clouds in the air,
Ice on their noses.
The cold so sharp it cuts you.

But the leaving is unavoidable.  And What You Know First takes on a rather profound message.

What you know first stays with you, my Papa says.
But just in case I forget
     I will take a twig of the cottonwood tree

I will take a little bag of prairie dirt
I cannot take the sky.

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