Walking with Paul Gruchow: A Poem


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Minnesota author Paul Gruchow

For those who care about such things, in February 2013 there was squabbling in Minnesota over the possibility of there being a state poem. What’d happened is that, upon the recommendation of a constituent, a state senator proposed “Minnesota Blue” by singer-songwriter Keith Haugen. Naturally, this upset the state literati as, besides the fact that Haugen lives in Hawaii, the poem is boring. In fact, to highlight this, I even had a fake debate with Sally Jo Sorenson of Bluestem Prairie where I tried (and struggled) to defend it.

I’ll leave it to the public to decide who won.

Some, like state poet laureate Joyce Sutphen nominated James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” or Robert Bly’s “Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River,” both of which I think would be fine (albeit broody) symbols. I would personally like to see something by Bob Dylan, but I know that when the time comes, it’ll likely be Garrison Keillor who gets it. And I’m OK with that.

As all of this was happening, The City Pages hosted a contest to select an alternative, and I was fortunate enough to make the final four (“Which of your submissions should be our state poem?“). Sadly, I didn’t win, and the world moved on, the whole conversation on there being a state poem fading away. (To be honest, I don’t even know if the state senator’s bill passed).

I’m re-posting here my submission, which I wrote some time in the fall of 2012 after reading Paul Gruchow‘s Grass Roots: The Universe of Home (Milkweed Editions, 1995). I first discovered Gruchow’s work growing up in Montevideo, MN, which is where he was from, and was fond of his Leopold-esque environmental essays. Sadly, I never had a chance to meet him as, in 2004, he committed suicide.

So, we walk only in prose, talk through poems.

Walking with Paul Gruchow

Kind words and best wishes don’t bring rain.
Subsidies won’t end a drought. His spirit,
like the last boots he’ll ever buy, wear
down down down in the dust.

“We never ran from change, but it sure
ran us out,” he says. “There’ll always be
somewhere to farm but there won’t be farmers.”
Footsteps scare out a ring-necked pheasant.

I ask what happened to the Farmer-Laborites,
the community, the culture. I’ve driven more
Interstates than walked desire paths, can
name more skyscrapers than native grasses.

Out on the wind everything I say is carried,
no telling where it’ll end up or what marsh
it’ll sink in. “I try not to dwell on it,” he says,
“or there’s bound to be a revolution.

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