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What Ed Bennett wrote:
Ms. Lockie's strongest poems are those where she comments on the social condition.
In "A Matter of Degree" she compares life in rural Montana to the city. The "instinct
of obligation" is imprinted in the rural soul and the weight of that obligation becomes
a burden within the city where tone finds the needs of so many others

"intolerable when there is no more to give"

A Matter of Degree
by Ellaraine Lockie

In Montana when anything injured comes your way
Whether it limps on two or four legs
Chases after the tail of sanity
Or suffers still and silent in the wreckage of time
It's your responsibility

You might be able only to feed a hunger its next fix
To invest a quick call to an animal's owner
To afford the few dollars that will drive
a migrant family to the next town
Or to sign a petition that preserves
the Eye of the Needle in the badlands

But your people know the necessity of communal
You've inherited the knowledge
Three generations of families peppered
over an endless prairie was all it took
to evolve the instinct of obligation

And when one of you moves away
to another kind of vastness in a city
This birthright still runs through your blood
There it's sometimes hard to leave the house
for fear of finding another stray cat or dog
Of meeting too many street beggars for the budget
Or a lonely old man at Starbucks
who can't stop talking about World War II

Reading the headlines, turning on newscasts
or answering the phone becomes
intolerable when there's no more to give
You start to feel naked in the midst
of clothed indifference
and raped by the mass of need
The only way to cope is to move further
and further away from the edge of community
One degree at a time toward the center of self

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