My thanks to William Stafford

Big sky of the Saskatchewan province of Canada

Big sky of the Saskatchewan province in Canada

Tonight I read through the poems I wrote on my trip to North Dakota and Saskatchewan during the summer of 2004. The poem below pays respect to William Stafford, a poet whose writings that I ate, breathed and fell asleep with during those six weeks. The 49th parallel is the border between the U.S. and Canada. My words echo his poem, “At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border.” It has been almost nine years since I visited this overwhelming space, and it is far away from my home on the Atlantic Ocean, but I can return by walking down these lines of words.

Reading Stafford at the 49th Parallel

This is the voice I carry, lines to wrap round me,

when I float too close to borders of despair.

This is the voice whose hope carves days,

where no hatred ever strays,

and green breath fills my mouth with prayer.

Birds still pilot blue skies unbound

above yellow fields that heave, swell, rise.

Led by you – I bless anew – this pass-through ground

charted by pursuit, desire, waste and greed.

Left behind for young dreamers to seed.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Light

The sky after the tornado

New Englanders may think their weather changes by the minute, but I think the Midwest has them beat by a mile. Memories of my childhood include lots of moments just watching the sky change before my eyes. With nothing getting in the way like trees or suburbia, you could see what was ahead of you or what was racing up behind you. Clouds could take so many shapes and colors: green golf-ball shapes that bubbled and black banks of night that inked out the day and white cotton that blanketed the sky. Maybe that’s why the sky still captures me. I always feel its presence when I return for visits because it fills up the spaces so much more there.

This photo was taken in Fargo, ND, in 2004. The city’s tornado sirens had just stopped and I went outside and saw this sky. I found out that a tornado had touched down not far from the university housing where I was staying. I was in North Dakota and Saskatchewan for six weeks that summer and the tornado sirens went off at least four times during my stay. On those wide plains where wind was the only constant, it felt like you had to hold onto the earth with both hands.

Heading Home in a Storm

Jagged rage flicks overhead,
      grumbles in primeval throat.
         
Maddened cloaks of sea green
                shroud tunnels of tall corn.
        Truck headlights skitter over
     splintered cottonwood sentries.
You look back at rosy sunset,

           then grind clutch,
    
                        spit gravel.
  

http://www.sliverofstone.com/Julia_Meylor_Simpson.html#Julia_Meylor_Simpson,_Heading

Weekly photo challenge: Boundaries

Overlooking a valley where dinosaurs once lived in western Saskatchewan

In the summer of 2004 I spent six weeks in the upper Midwest and Canada studying the literature and history of the Great Plains with 20 other teachers in a National Endowment of the Humanities fellowship program. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. All I knew: I wanted to immerse myself into something I loved — and at the time it was the writing of Wallace Stegner, Willa Cather, Wendell Barry and William Stafford (and still is).

I came away with a renewed appreciation for the stark beauty of the upper Midwest. I learned to respect the immigrants who walked off the edge of their bordered lives into a new nation and a boundless prairie.