In celebration of National Poetry Month, we're sharing a regional poet's work with readers each week in April. Kent poet Peter Ludwin evokes a mood of desperate isolation in "Notes from a Sodbuster's Wife, Kansas, 1868."
Verbal rhythms, line spacings and sharp imagery dovetail perfectly in Peter Ludwin’s compact slice-of-history in verse. His ear for colloquial speech and his eye for detail (“accusation leaking from rudderless eyes” in an old photograph) add up to a powerful distillation of the downside of the frontier experience. Ludwin splits his time between Kent and West Texas.
Poetry Month continues through April. Look for more poems by Northwest writers on this page every Thursday until May.
— Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer
Notes from a Sodbuster’s Wife, Kansas, 1868
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What really got us in the end —
we women who didn’t make it,
who withered and blew away in the open —
was the wind. Space, yes, and distance,
too, from neighbors, a piano back in Boston.
But above all, the wind.
In our letters it shrieks hysteria from sod huts,
vomits women prematurely undone by
boils up off the horizon to suck dry
their desire as it flattened the stubborn grasses.
Not convinced? Scan the photographs,
grainy and sepia-toned, like old leather.
Study our bony forms in plain black dresses,
our mouths drawn tight as a saddle cinch,
accusation leaking from rudderless eyes,
I tried. Lord knows I tried.
Survived the locusts and even snakes
that fell from the ceiling at night,
slithering between us in bed.
I dreamed of water, chiffon, the smell
of dead leaves banked against a rotting log.
I heard opera, carriage wheels on cobblestone.
Cried and beat my fists raw into those earthen walls.
The wind. Even as it scoured
the skin it flayed the soul,
that raked, pitted shell.
And how like the Cheyenne,
no fixed location,
not even a purpose one could name.
— Peter Ludwin, from “A Guest in All Your Houses” (Word Walker Press, $13.95)