Rattle, an online and print publication dedicated to promoting poetry, sponsors (among other amazing things) a weekly poetry challenge. In this challenge, writers must respond to events of the previous week and submit them by Friday. I’m not much of a “prompt” writing person, mostly because I don’t like to try to make something work around an idea that isn’t mine. No, that’s not ego; its just that I have a hard time feeling inspired by someone else’s idea. So it’s more of an inspiration thing.
Recently, however, I decided to give the poets respond challenge a try.
I grew up in Nebraska, and in the past few weeks, the whole state has been dealing with flooding. This poem, “After the flood,” is a response to that.
After the Flood
Yesterday, we watched the Niobrara River,
hungry for years, open wide
and swallow our world.
She took the corncrib, the house,
and everything we’ve worked for
all these long, hard years.
Great-grandpa Joseph dug the well by hand
and kerosene lantern in the 1880s.
He dug deep to hit the Ogallala Aquifer,
said he wanted to give his descendants
the gift of easy access to water.
With my headlamp on, this morning
I watched my daughter’s newborn 4-H calf
struggle against unending bounty,
take its last, wet breath, and float by.
She’ll understand that her 4-H season is over —
she’s lost a calf before. But I don’t know how
to explain the move to town, how to tell her
that our life on the farm is over.
I heard back from Rattle yesterday; I didn’t “win” the challenge. But that’s OK. With hundreds or maybe thousands of submissions, I knew it was a long shot. And it was just fun to try and respond to a prompt that allowed me to be inspired by whatever spoke to me. If you’d like to read the poem that “won” (rightfully so, it’s great!), you can read it here.