Poems by Eileen Davis Elliott



When I was a kid, I never got sick enough to go to the doctor
(Or maybe we just never had enough money for them)
Anyway, when I was eight, I did get sick
Passed-out, throwing-up, eye-glazed-fever sick

The doctor saw me at the clinic
I couldn’t stay awake in the back seat
And he said, “Hospital.”
I didn’t know that word

We drove to Yankton, twenty-five bald-tired miles away
Drove through the long May twilight when the light was gently fading
I remember a purple gold hanging out in the lingering West as we crossed the river
Then I was gone again

I woke up when bright lights shone in my face
I was surrounded
Surrounded by giant birds, black and white
Swooping sleeve-wings moving

Coming, always coming at me
Rubbing me with alcohol
I knew the smell from disinfecting safety pins
We used to dig out summer barefoot splinters

They would not stop
I would leave them
Run away, slip off into sleep
Wanted no one to touch me, but they did

They did, with gentle fingers
Wiping my chest, my little girl ribs,
Swabbing my arms, my knuckles and knees
Skinny and scabby
Not much of a body yet
But it was mine

And they prayed
No “Jesus Loves Me”
But a full-on “Hail Mary Full Of Grace” plea
Save her, they said to the air and the candles

Don’t let her die, my mom said
As she held my hand
At least that’s what she said later

Don’t let her die, my dad said
As he shoveled full the truck with oats
To sell and buy me my life from the black-and-white birds
At least that’s what he said later

I just remember the birds went away
They went away with their hands, hands, hands
And brought back jello, and smooth pillows
And a tiny all-white bird sang me songs of God’s eye
And sparrows

She called me a sparrow and said I almost flew away
But I didn’t; I stayed
And lived for my mother
And lived for my father
Who have since flown away

Perhaps they are with White Bird
Perhaps they eat jello
Perhaps sometimes they are held by loving hands
I wish I could be sure



I arranged the oatmeal raisin cookies with an eye to abundance
Need to leave the impression that we are not running short
That there are plenty for everyone
More than one apiece is the rule here in the country

We were raised here, born here
Know every single person
Not just by name
But who they married, when they started farming
And how they stand with the bank
And the Lord, as far as that’s concerned

Such things matter out here, out here in the country
Some of us know this need to talk to Jesus
But we don’t exactly call it that
Our kids from college talk to Higher Power
But I am pretty sure our prayers land on the same doorstep

I heard our neighbor talking to my husband
(Together 52 years, still going strong )
These men with kind faces, furrowed brow
Wrinkles deepening, there’s a lot to fret about

I listen as this old friend grabs his coffee
Speaks more with lowered shoulders than with words
His pain screams loud, I look past lowered eyelids
Responds to Sunday greetings with a sigh

Struggles through the routine conversation
Yes, he took seed corn delivery
Bought fertilizer, sorghum seed, opened his  machine shed
Equipment greased and engines running good .

Then, a shuddering heart break message in just six words
“Anybody want to buy a farm?”
Words from a man,  strong faith, four generations tilled that soil thus far
A man who sees his grandkids playing beside the barn his father built

Where do we go with this grief, this loss of farmers
This way of life that’s pounded to the ground
Blizzard, flood, blizzard, flood
And it’s only early April thus far

I don’t know what to say to my old friend
To other farmers here who try to “make it work.”
It seems offering another cookie is not enough