Facing Forward
By Kathleen Ernst

In the old world, Emil muttered prayers over trenchers
of lutefisk, peered at the sky and sniffed the air to decide
when to plant potatoes, counted coins before Rilla shopped.
She tended her hearth as she’d been raised to do, an endless
chain of chores, and raw-fingered women doing them.

In the old world, when the hungry time came,
rye crop blackened with rust, children whimpering,
empty bellies and purses, Emil said We will go.
Rilla wept to leave her mother and sisters, lefse and cod,
smoke-stained village, mossy gravestones, all she knew.

In the new world, walking west, Rilla bore weight:
an unborn child in front, the toddler on her hip, worry.
When the oxen foundered she knotted her mother’s
kale seeds and candlesticks into the shawl
tied over one shoulder; and hefted the rifle too.

But in the new world Rilla walked with a step lighter
than heels rubbed raw, feet on fire, muscles’ ache,
sunburned skin.  She walked toward the prairie,
the unexpected promise of possibility, new grace
in her heart, a life not defined before her wedding day,

while Emil trudged behind, dragging an anvil
of gnawing doubt and fear, missing his father,
looking over his shoulder; but looking forward, too,
toward the woman he once knew, wondering
what he’d lost, and how she’d come to find it.


© 2012 Kathleen Ernst, LLC.