Jackie Reid Dettloff has lived in Riverwest for 25 years, first as a bilingual teacher at La Escuela Fratney and later as monthly contributor to the Riverwest Currents. Her published work includes On This Earth(1999), Emergence (2010) and My Mexico (2013). Since 2010 she has been a member of the Wednesday Writers at Woodland Pattern.
Rites of Spring
Rain on the day we went to Wagners’ farm:
tractor up to its axles in ice and
wherever the ice had melted, mud.
Even with her snazzy speckled boots
Olive balked when I asked her to walk –
“sippery,” she said and she was right.
I lifted her and picked my way
around puddles and piles of snow
through a ramshackle door
into the warm barn.
We entered a universe of dim light
earthy smells, straw strewn like carpet
under the feet of one hundred fifty ewes.
Those with bulging bellies
loitered in one pen, waiting.
Some would nest themselves,
until the babies inside them
demanded to be born.
Those who had already given birth
stood stoically in stalls
beside their tiny lambs:
nappy, gray, wooly babes
with tails and blunt snouts
who poked at their mother’s milk bag.
The mothers munched tender hay,
by their wobbly young.
Mr. Wagner pampers his sheep,
surrounding them with Beatles songs,
tending a vast and warm maternity ward.
“Had seven ewes give birth last night,”
he told us, proud as any midwife.
We were his honored April guests,
witnessing the rites of Spring.
I held my grandchild and I was glad.
Field of Grass
Remember the summer
we stood on the great Montana plain?
Wind warmed our cheeks
as it rippled the ocean of grass.
You looked far for bison.
I looked near at life hidden
in that seemingly-the-same plain of grass.
I found a tiny insect
all fresh, and pale green
poised on a stalk of wild wheat.
Pulling its last antenna
from a cask of shriveling skin,
it stepped out of old confines
shedding what could no longer contain it.
It paused, then hopped into the infinite field of grass.
That’s what we did today,
in this different place, this other season.
We stepped out of old patterns
we were needing, both, to shed.
Like that grasshopper we pulled ourselves
out of something old today.
We emerge, all delicate and new,
onto the endless expanse of grass.
Consider what it means
to knead this lugubrious dough,
to feel between my fingers
lumps of raisins
and occasional caraway seeds.
I make this bread
in memory of my Uncle Jim,
scrappy second son
who baked it every year
for fellows in his firehouse.
And my grandmother, always
pleased to find us at her door.
Praised be Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
Wouldn’t we come in now
and let her make us a cupeen of tea?
And Mary of the open hearth,
big-boned woman so proud
that both her sons were priests,
and her daughter in the Maryknolls.
Whenever I stepped inside her house
she set before me slices of this bread.
So here am I this morning
blending flour and buttermilk
in what has become a ritual.
“Take this bread and eat of it,”
I will tell my children and friends,
“This is the bread of my forebearers
in a green and windswept land.
This is the bread of people
who suffered genocidal rule.
This is the bread of peasants
who sang and told stories to survive.”
This is the loaf of their legacy:
Simple soda bread.