May 6, 2014

My Geology

"We forget our past, as instinct, to avoid the emotions of regret or the specter of change. This is certainly true of the Native experience in Minnesota, but true of so much else as well, including the rough and still barely-understood story of the Iron Range," said Aaron J. Brown in a MinnPost article about the 1862 mass execution of Lakota men in Mankato, Minnesota.  In an effort to know the story of my immigrant family and the place where they settled-- Zim and Toivola, Minnesota-- I have woven together family stories with those of Iron Range history. 

Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range. These poems are about the Iron Range in Minnesota, the Vermilion Trail, and they are stories of travel and derailment about mining, radical politics, unionizing, accordion music and strong women.  Available in bookstores and online where books are sold:  Barnes & Noble or

Here are stories of Meridel LeSueur, writer; Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, union organizer for IWW; Charles Bray, MD and Mary Bassett Bray, MD, doctors in Biwabik; Rev. Milma Lappala, Unitarian; Violet Turpeinen, Musician; Mr and Mrs Philip Masonovich, miner & wife; Eric Enstrom, photograph (famous for "Grace"); Gladys Koski Holmes, visual artist; women miners, laborers, farmers and immigrants.   This poem begins the collection:

My Geology

I excavate these words from a vein of iron
from stones broken
beneath old growth
from the open pit — lit by dynamite
by men whose lives are punctuated by midnights
who drive new cars to the plant,
to the Crusher and Agglomerator,
and later suffer mesothelioma.
I drive in acid rain
my compass gone awry
over Proterozoic layers with four wheel drive.
These words are test drills and core samples
from the Boundary Waters.
These words are wrung from the whistles
and wheels that turn.
These words have never been projected into board rooms.
I have yet to wield these powers or capitalize.
I have yet to see the returns.
I claim my words from the broken
English, damaged roots,
Finnish syntax, and geomagnetic fields 
from Eminent Domain
small print, unreadable clauses.
I find my vowels
from labor contracts and mine dumps
factories and invisible contamination.
My words, in the run off
in open streams — oxidize
form like tree rings
in industrial circles
heat in the smelters, pour like lava into steel
form these rails that carry the trains
these trains that carry this freight.

c2014 Sheila Packa

The landscape is far more important than I ever imagined when I was young. Now I understand that we are not separate from it. Within me and all the Iron Range citizens, are the same layers of geology, the waterways, and the wildlife.  Within, if we listen to the silence spaces -- the lost and forgotten -- we can hear that rich history sing.  

No comments:

Post a Comment