We are lost in Iowa,
pulled off the highway onto a gravel road.
Not content to give himself totally over to the control of GPS,
he checked its suggested route last night and instead devised his own.
But now, lost, without a clue as to where we are,
we have pulled over
to contemplate our situation.
I open the door to catch a breeze.
The yellow blooms of sweet clover and purple alfalfa
line the little road.
Wild anise and tall marsh grass
complete a scene
of perfect rural quiet and suddenly,
I am no longer lost.
I am back on the running board of my dad’s beat-up red pickup,
waiting for him to finish mowing the lower field.
I’ve eaten one chokecherry
from a nearby bush
and my mouth is puckered
by it’s astringent sting.
I go back sixty years
as I drink icy spring water
from my dad’s metal water can
wrapped in wet canvas
to keep it cool,
then jump back fifty years more
to my dad’s youth,
to try to imagine how he felt
with the prairie stretching hundreds of miles
in every direction.
My dad, his parents and two sisters in a two-room house.
There was privacy in the barn,
a dog for company.
Their closest neighbor
an ancient Hunkpapa Sioux named Charley
in his dugout house
half a mile up the draw,
town an hour’s ride away or more by horse or wagon.
With no diversion of cell tower or satellite dish—
there was only his family,
the land and his imagination.
My dad killing the coyote,
then finding her pups and bringing them home.
What would his dilemma have been?
Did he raise them,
then turn in their pelts for bounty?
Did he release them,
and then never know when he killed a coyote
if it was merely a pest or a former pet as well?
What did he think when he lay in a patch of clover?
Did he smell the wild anise and imagine
the sweet stickiness of licorice?
Did he pick the wild asparagus
for his ma to poach?
Did he have the idle moments
with which my childhood was filled?
What child now lies in the grass,
looking for something for his mind to rest against?
What other traveler,
lost on a gravel road in the scorching sun,
opens her door to a breeze
that flows like water down an empty creek channel,
looks up from the GPS screen
that promises to restore them
to civilization’s knowing?
Will she, as I have, relieve her lost present
by losing herself in the past?
That girl who sat on her dad’s running board
who would journey so far to unimagined places,
still travels the mind back to pleasures
of a world it was possible to be lost in,
sweet clover and wild anise
giving a taste of precious emptiness.
In this age of machines that can guide us
so surely into a future,
where we are often so found
that we are lost in it—
savor those mistakes
that bring us back
to flounder in ourselves.
We, too, know the way.
Dad with sleepy coyote pups on South Dakota farm, 1924
The Prompt: Wrong Turns—When was the last time you got lost? Was it an enjoyable experience, or a stressful one? Tell us all about it.
I am cheating and publishing here a poem I wrote on a trip two years ago.