This is a poem. A poem that was pushing at me to be written. I sat down to write it. This is what came out. A prose poem.
I ask myself, "Why did I move back to Montana?" I fish the waters for an answer. Sometimes I haul in a trout or a salmon. Often my line hooks seaweed or a sucker. I would like a rational answer. Even to my mind, decisions based on the smell of bruised sage, the open bowl of forever sky, the gathering of elk at Slippery Ann or the first crocus at Snake Butte do not seem rational.
Even clockmakers know that time does not run in a straight line. Time is a wheel, a circle, rolling 'round and 'round. We try to bury the past.
The past still happens. It never leaves us. The wise elders know. Sit and listen to any old-timer tell his stories. Even my four-year-old granddaughter knows this. Somewhere in the middle we lose it.
It is the stories. It is those who know our stories. The people who know our goodness and who know our failings. The people who knew my dad, my sister, my husband and his family. The people who knew me then. When those people are gone, our stories live on. Those stories live on in the stones, in the dirt, in the rush and lap of the river. That is what is important, the stories. In them we are known.
We often feel alone. We pretend nobody knows us. We don a mask to get us through each day. We try to hide our warts. We fear if people see the warts, we will not be loved. We reveal more story by what we hide than by the words we choose. But someone listens. Someone hears. Someone loves us.
When I was growing up, when I felt sad or in distress, I ran into the woods along the Milk River and climbed into the crotch of a huge cottonwood and nestled hidden in the branches. Nobody could see me.
Nobody knew I was there. I cried or daydreamed or planned, and they are all the same thing. I held my sadness close to me. I didn't want it to show.
Years later, before my dad sold the farm, I came home for a holiday visit. Dad took me aside and quietly told me, "Your tree came down in a storm. You might want to walk out to say goodbye before I haul it away." I cried and cried, not for the tree, but that my dad knew. My dad had kept my secret.
I wrote my first Montana poems in Chicago. I wrote my best Montana poems in Poulsbo, Wash. I pulled my poetry from a bag slung over my shoulders, a bag filled with each sense memory, each life experience.
Often I pretended my bag was empty. I did not want to look at what I carried, at what weighed me down, slowed my step. I closed my eyes to the root of my sadness.
The mind pretends, but the heart knows. For me, here beneath the slant of autumn sun, there is no room for pretense. My stories surround me. I listen. I learn. In each story is lodged a piece of me. I am not alone.
Each story also holds a piece of you. Each story heard lightens my burden. The circle turns.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)