Saturday, July 23, 2011

traveling south dakota

Moving to South Dakota was a no-brainer for me. I packed up and moved my life because the universe put the right wheels in motion, allowing me to be in the right space at the right time to meet my soulmate. Okay, the term is overrated. But if you strip it down to the essentials, it works. My soul had met its match. The one thing my soul hadn't bargained for is that this soulmate would have a complete life in South Dakota.

With nothing holding me in Texas, except perhaps my love of really good Tex-Mex, I followed the wise little voice inside and here I am. But that's so not the story. The story is that there are things about this place that I fell in love with. And that every so often I have to remind myself that golden plains that stretch forever have a beauty all their own. Often, it's the drive to the country that gives me the chance to remember to find the things that are good, and beautiful, and worth experiencing.

On our last road trip I took some notes, and this me, observing the South Dakota east of the Missouri River.

It appears that summer has finally come to South Dakota. Corn shoots popping their heads up out of the rich soil as we drive north on Highway 29. Aging barns dot the hills surrounded by tiny fields. I am struck by the neat and even rows and the lack of unruliness. Plants grow evenly and winding paths split the neverending fields like the lead separating the colors of stained glass windows.

Strange how a stand of old cottonwoods suddenly appear and the trees spread their leaves and branches right in in middle of a perfectly groomed cornfield. Who decided to let them stand, and why?

Gray-brown barns and outbuildings show thier age, struggling to bear the weight of years. Siding holds tight to crossbeams at twisted angles and sloping metal roofs bow at passersby.

The weather has not been kind today. Strong winds and rain twisted sturdy tree trunks leaving them bending and crippled. Sheets of water washed the pavement and left puddles for geese mothers and their young to splash. The sun sets slowly in the rainwashed sky. Tinted gray, it teases us with the possibility of yet another storm.

Cows, sheep and goats feed on the still wet vegetation that grows just to nourish them.

In the distance, a windfarm rises like 100 giant tin soldiers ready for battle. Their white armor is sleek and new. Swirling blades face the setting sun in a constant salute. Some farmers sell off large pieces of their land to make room for this new breed, yet cattle graze in their shadows.

We pass fenceposts and silos, and I am reminded of the life I used to have in Texas. There are a few differences between the flat prairies of South Dakota and the neverending spans of Texas cattle country. Where there was once a rusting metal railroad bridge flanked by catci, spindly mesquite and sage brush, there is now a solitary oak and a huddle of hay bales.

If memory serves me, the stretches of emptiness along Texas roadways offered a bit more color and had more signs of a history. Out here, one farm leads only to another, and while I know that men and women have lived on this land for hundreds of years, they have left few signs other that the cultivated fields.

Beauty? It can be found everywhere if we take the time to look.

Friday, July 22, 2011

mommy space

A couple of months ago I decided that sharing the ride to work made perfect sense in my world. I could save money and have some company riding through the cornfields on my way to the office in Iowa. I talked to a colleague, who made the same daily trek from the city and we planned to begin the following week.

Monday came. I arrived at her house and parked, waiting for her to emerge with her toddler in tow. Unlike most carpools, our third participant is under the age of two. Greta's day care provider is just a mile or so from our office. Little did I know how much this little bundle of energy would affect our journey each morning.

At first, she was definitely not down with having another human being to steal mommy's attention. The more we talked, the more needs she vocalized. More milk, more crackers, more books, more toys. Look at me, Mommy, I'm talking to you.

Over the past few weeks she has learned a few tricks. When Mommy won't respond, Melissa will. Since the novelty has worn off, she's likely, on most mornings, to do her own thing and only raise the volume when something is seriously bin has tipped or she's lost a shoe, or found a shoe, or thinks there's something interesting about her shoe. I'm good with this. She makes us laugh and fills up the time with her little observations.

What I didn't count on was the safe mommy space carpooling has created for two full time writers who also happen to be mothers of preschoolers. It's just not cool to bring mommy issues to work. Our associates don't want to hear about every cute comment uttered, each milestone reached, and the sleepless night spent cradling a sick kid.

On the other hand, our precious carpool is perfectly suited to indulging in mommyhood full force. I can tell her how funny it was when Scout explained the features and habitat of the marmoset and the peregrin falcon without worrying that she'll be bored. She knows I'll share her joy when Greta sings the entire alphabet song without prompting. She mentions how tired she is of changing dirty diapers, and I reassure her that it will end. I share my frustration that people in my family give me a hard time about being overprotective, and she understands. Food allergies, great toys, where to get a deal on used books...all of these are relevant and important in our mommy space.

Best of all, there's no one to judge us or roll their eyes, except perhaps Greta, who is perfectly content, as long as we respond when she says, "oops."

Friday, July 08, 2011

white - a poem

I was born white
the daughter of two middle class Americans
with the blood of Germany, Hungary, France, a Canadian tracker
and maybe a little slave girl and a Mexican farm worker tossed in for color.

I chose this life
as you did yours
long before the coupling which brought about my birth
chose this life of privilege
where there is no worry about getting killed on my street
And I ate purple popsicles from the front porch of a white house
with a lush lawn
and petunias planted down the walk

And I do not apologize to you for my white life

I cannot feel the shackles that rub your ankles raw
and bind your wrists
I cannot feel the pain of your multicolored soul
growing up in the middle of a war zone
streets painted with blood and graffiti
while I finger-painted flowers and rainbows at my mamma’s kitchen table

I do not know the struggles you faced just getting by
while your daddies and brothers were rounded up by white cops
for the color of their skin and being in the wrong place at the wrong time
My daddy drove his truck home every day at five

And I am not sorry

I did not hear gunshots in the street over the songs my mother sang to me in my cradle
I listened to the creek water trickle over rocks
while dogs barked and the wind brushed across my face

And I am not sorry

What do you want from me black man? Latino woman? Navajo child?

You do not want my skin – pale and freckling, burning in the sun
You do not want my sympathy – the struggle has made you strong enough to reject my well-intentioned overtures
You do not want my money – you are proud and independent
You do not want my history – yours is rich and all your own

What do you want from this white girl?

You say “nothing” and I don’t believe you as you look at me with suspicious eyes

I think you want me to pay for the sins of my father, and his father before
And I hope that I’m wrong, because I cannot fix your history, mend the rent fabric of your tattered blanket or glue together the pieces of your wounded soul.

There is no band-aid to heal the wounds left on the red skin of the natives or on the land stolen and scarred with skyscrapers and mini malls

And that’s the problem – you have to live with it and I have to live with it
Your blood boils and I can’t cool it off – not with a smile or a loving embrace or even an acknowledgement.

I want to will the injustice of the past away and share my purple popsicle, but it’s too late and your daddy didn’t live on my street.

All I can do is tell the children, the young and color blind
Teach them that graffiti and finger-painting are good for the soul
Teach them to share their purple popsicles ‘til the world runs out

And no one has to be sorry

Melissa Bachara Rohwedder - May 2003

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