A QUILT IN NORTH NEBRASKA
by Al “Doc Mehl
There’s a quilt in north Nebraska,
That’s been sewn into the land;
Rolling grass fields are the fabric,
And the batting’s made of sand.
It’s been trimmed at the horizon
Where it’s pinned against the sky;
Ev’ry stock tank is a button,
Ev’ry windmill is a tie.
And the runs of old barb’d wire,
They are the braided threads with which
Nimble fingers sew a pattern;
Ev’ry fence post is a stitch.
Each square tells a family’s story,
Sewn inside a bound’ry fence;
That quilt chronicles a his’try
’Bout the trials of sustenance.
Formed of fabric from those lives,
That quilt will shield us from the storm;
Daytime’s tapestry breathes beauty,
Come the night, ’twill keep us warm.
Pieced a broad mosaic patchwork,
’Tis a blend of life and line;
I should think that some great spirit
Had a hand in the design.
Most folks picture the Almighty
In the image of a man.
But if judging by that quilt,
I’d say God has a woman’s hands.
© 2008, Al “Doc” Mehl, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Nebraska celebrates its 150th anniversary today, and the sesquicentennial celebration continues all year.
Poet, songwriter, and musician Al “Doc” Mehl told us about this poem soon after it was written, and he illustrates a relationship among poets:
Several years ago as I was driving into the Sand Hill country of Nebraska to perform at Old West Days in Valentine, I couldn’t help thinking of the finely detailed quilting of good friend and accomplished poet Yvonne Hollenbeck ([a Nebraska native] who lives nearby just across the state line in South Dakota). The rolling grass covered hills of this uniquely beautiful countryside reminded me of Yvonne’s billowy bed-cover creations, and an idea for a poem began to take shape.
As it turns out, a few scribbles on a loose scrap of paper were all that survived that original inspiration, and the cryptic notes languished in a “poems-in-progress” file until recently… Jane Morton was kind enough to present me with a copy of her latest CD titled Turning to Face the Wind. Listening to her recording, I was inspired to revisit my own quilting-poem idea by Jane’s somber poem, “Summer’34.” In this piece, Jane describes her mother taking up the art of piecing a quilt to combat the loneliness she felt living out on the eastern plains of Colorado. I can still hear Jane’s voice:
Mom pieced and pieced and pieced some more,
that summer ’34
My mother was expecting,
and the wind blew evermore.
I pulled my former notes from the file that evening, and it seems the original idea had finally come of age; the poem about the Sand Hill country flowed out onto the page.
Doc also shared this photo, which he says was, “…taken by me in the Sand Hills of Nebraska on the ranch where poet Marty Blocker was working at the time.”
Nebraska “prairie poet” Marci Broyhill brought the state’s celebration to our attention. She and her sister, songwriter Teresa Kay Orr, are presenting programs to students to commemorate Nebraska’s Sesquicentennial. Teresa Kay Orr’s songs are a part of a documentary on Doc Middleton, “Nebraska’s Robin Hood.” Watch the film here.
Find more about Marci at marcibroyhill.com.