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Where the Meadowlark Sings
by Ellaraine Lockie
24 Poems/ 26 Pages/ $12.95
Encircle Publications, LLC
Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ellaraine Lockie's poetry, she is, to say the least, a keen observer of the human condition. Her imagery is perfectly synced with the urban landscape of Los Angeles and its denizens, with the occasional side trip to a suburban coffee shop. Where the Meadowlark Sings, her newest work, is somewhat of a departure. The author returns to her childhood home in Montana, using her eye and her considerable poetic abilities to produce a labor of love for the rolling prairies where she was born and raised.
In her "How to Know a Prairie Poem" she begins with a tutorial:
"You see it on a morning drive
through a Charlie Russell painting
Where an apricot sun splashes color
over the Great Northern Plains...
A sea of native grass and sage scents
narrated by waves of wind
with whispers from a skunk-drunk coyote”
Indeed, the sun takes on a different character from the usual incessant sun of LA. This sun provides the chromatic beauty of the Montana plains as it actively daubs color across a wide western sky. In her poem "Photograph"
"...the first slice of sun
over the Bear Paw Mountains strikes a match
against a spruce by the cabin
An explosion of luminous gold encircles the tree"
Her vocabulary is muscular, mirroring the hard lives endured by her own relatives in this beautiful but demanding scape. The men and women of Montana are shown in all of their rough edged dignity, a perfect complement to their environs. Even the vividness of the rising sun or the forever distances of the horizon cannot erase the difficulties of life where
"...death is as much a part of living
as the sweat that drained her grandmother
of the well water she hauled daily"
This is no transplanted Easterner tending to the family garden as her husband tends the cattle. This is a woman alone, no husband in sight, not just carrying water but "hauling" it in countless mind numbing trips to the well and back to a home with no running water. Ms. Lockie also gives us a different view of the "Westerner" and his code of the west that is very different from the usual description in the movies. In "Late Harvest" a group of men meet in a cafe
"Rigged in Stetsons and scuffed cowboy boots
that hide bald heads and bunioned feet
Long-sleeved shirts with snaps and bled-out
Levis that cover long-johns even in 100-degrees
Their bull elk demeanors work hard
at making the coffee klatch look like coincidence...
Carrying his rifle, an expired driver's license
And a can of oil to bribe the joints
of an old combine into one more season"
When I was a child on the East Coast, it was not uncommon to hear the older generations talk about "the other side" where they were born. As I grew older, I realized that some of these stories were embellished with a patina of fantasy no doubt born of the homesickness that they felt. Our own generation, like our immigrant forebears, have become mobile, moving from the eastern portals of entry to the Sunbelt. No doubt, we cover our journeys in this same patina, thinking of summer evenings on the stoop while riding out golf carts in retirement communities.
Ellaraine Lockie's journey is quite different. She returns to her childhood home to witness the land and the people with her discerning eye and her crystalline verse. What resulted is a loving portrait of a legendary place inhabited with straightforward people. They are familiar to the author and she pays them the respect of an honest portrait backed by the seemingly endless prairie grass and the "meadowlark's six-note warble".
I cannot recommend this book too highly. When I first opened the cover, I was expecting the usual quality poetry with Ms. Lockie's usual flair for describing her surroundings. What I found instead was a different kind of work, no less creative and stunning in its effect. It may mark a turning point in her poetry or, more aptly, a high water mark in her verse. Either way, it is a book that should be read and re-read, partly for the fine poetry and partly for the heart that shows itself in each line.