Two Poems on the Past

These two poems draw on the author's recognition of her heritage within the farming and Mennonite communities of central Kansas.


The steps down are no problem.

There is the handrail and the pine boards creaking.
Errands for potatoes and summer tornadoes
teach me the way when it’s easy to learn: young,
holding my grandfather’s hand.

The dugout is dark like sleepiness
I wake into on winter mornings, familiar
room I move through, dressing quietly,
making my way by proximities.

Papa doesn’t say we’re not alone. Our errand
to light the pilot does not require speech to know
the room is very damp and holds more than earth
and canning jars. Reticence keeps its cadence,

becomes my native tongue. I wake
to early light scattering strange figures on the wall.
Recognition sparks, then stalls. I strain
to hear the song its going makes.


(from the German for earth, essence, abyss)

Today is the sale. It’s winter: cold morning in the kitchen
before they go, warming themselves for battle with fried eggs and instant coffee:
cattle through the chute and up the ramp. Slam the gate!
How Papa hollers. Whooping and waving his arms to make himself bigger.
Dumb cows carrying on like they know, This is it.

Riding in the truck heat rises through the floorboards of the old Ford.
Daddy’s hands keep the giant wheel steady
while Papa’s hands hold his knees—like he holds everything, loosely—
occasionally squeezing my leg or taking my smooth hand
in his gnarled one, gentle.

We pull into the lot and there’s the auctioneer chanting
gimmee gimmee gimmee ten, gimmee twenty and a hotdog with cherry pie
for lunch. Papa disappears then reappears with a piece of paper we take to the bank.
The woman behind the window puts Smarties in a plastic tube
and pushes a button that rockets the tube straight up—shwoop!—it’s magic

how the tube comes from there to here
and now I am eating the candies. I tell my sister selling cows is like Christmas
and know it’s true when dad comes home with a new used car—
With the trade-in, a pretty good deal. Mom calls our cousins
to reserve the cabin in Colorado between harvest and fieldwork.

For school I have new clothes, a plaid dress with a ribbon pinned at the neck.
I learn to read the first day. Everybody is surprised I start with sentences,
but I have been making a study of things. I like being like
Papa who doesn’t say much except hard work. The rhythm of the words
and the sense they make is a road like going places.

About the Author

Jennifer Jantz Estes

Jennifer Jantz Estesis a writer, designer and editor for Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas. A descendent of Mennonites who immigrated to central Kansas from Prussia in 1874, she was raised on a farm and spent many summers learning the art of solitude driving a wheat truck across the Great Plains. She lives in Canton, Ohio, with her husband, two young sons and two dogs. Follow her blog at jenniferjantzestes.wordpress.com.