Woman, Dakota Territory
with appreciation for Harvey Dunn’s painting – Dakota Woman – and for my family’s history
She would sit for hours absorbing
all the colors of the prairie
naming them even reciting them to herself
as though she knew repetition
would help her eyes remember
the honeyed blond blankets of wheat
the dancing bitter green of wild grasses
outcroppings of vivid cornflower blue columbine red.
She learned to recognize the scarlet lake
of devil’s paintbrush and the vibrant purple
of the sharp-tipped thistle. She memorized
the plaited evening skies smoldering gold
dove grey pink the surprise of deep periwinkle.
Even the dirt though it darkened her children’s clothes
called out to her a rich peat shot through
with threads of blackened burnt ochre.
She gathered those days to herself
while her husband gave away land
telling eager settlers which parcel of prairie
they could claim as their own.
It seemed to her that the land belonged to the sky.
Her son didn’t drown until after they’d gone back east.
He couldn’t navigate the gaping hole the sudden
unexpected pit opening in the shallows of the river.
But for all the years to come one image of him
always in her mind always on the Dakota plains
his solemn grey eyes fixed on hers
behind his head a thin line of amethyst
stretched along a wide horizon.
This poem was first published by Highland Park Poetry in the book, 2017 Poetry Challenge.
Melissa Huff has returned to her love of writing after fifteen satisfying years immersed in making one-of-a-kind jewelry (www.melissahuff.com). When she needed to use more of her intuition and craved a less linear creative process, sculpting poems by folding words around images and ideas turned out to be just the thing. Melissa enjoys exploring both formal poetry and free verse, for which she has garnered awards from the Chicago-based Poets & Patrons as well as the Illinois State Poetry Society and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her publishing credits include Highland Park Poetry, Winterwolf Press, Glass: Facets of Poetry and River Poets Journal. She currently serves as secretary of the Illinois State Poetry Society.
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