The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Remembering Robbie Lucke: A Poets Memory


August 15, 2018

By Ellaraine Lockie

Author's Note: This poem is republished here in honor of Robert Lucke, who loved poetry and kept it alive in the Mountaineer for so many years. He inspired this poem when he described his grandmother's prairie garden to me with such admiration and nostalgia. Both of my grandmothers were Big Sandy homesteaders who also had gardens.

My Clawiter grandparents were early Big Sandy homesteaders around 1900. My mother was Ella Clawiter and that homestead, located at the bottom of the Bear Paws, was handed down to and farmed by Max Clawiter. It now belongs to Jim and Marla Ray.

My Gerson grandparents were also early Big Sandy homesteaders. My father was Max Gerson, and the homestead was on top of the hill on the North side of town, My dad took over the farm after my grandparents died. He farmed it the entire time I grew up. Part of that farm is now owned by Ronnie and Gay Pearson and part by Robin and Cinda Pearson. When I come home in the summers, Ronnie and Gay graciously let me stay in their cabin on land that I dearly love.

The poem is a composite one in that it is the result of Robert's contribution, my grandmothers' gardens and a San Francisco museum drawing on crinkled handmade paper of a partially cracked and broken vase lying on its side, out of which pansies spilled. The flowers were drawn progressively into butterflies that eventually flew away from the vase. I took a photograph of it and carried the image around, knowing I would write about it. I put pen to paper every few days but couldn't get beyond the first four lines of the poem until Robert told me about his grandmother's garden.

Abandoned Garden

Lying on the long side of time

a partially buried Meissen vase

Crackled like paper crunched in the fist of an accident

Its mouth growing sweet peas and pansies

A pioneer woman's attempt to civilize an untamed land

As though she were out gathering a bouquet

for a quilting bee in her homestead house

when some tragedy befell her

The house now as much a ghost as she

Yet she lingers in these immigrant flowers

that survive encroachment from native clover

blue flax, sage and morning glory

Butterflies that pollinate from one to the other

arbitrating the struggle

Like the diplomacy of a woman

caught between a hardcore German husband

and the America around them

Between their children and the razor strop

that hung on a toolshed door

She lives in the flames of poppies she planted

that have burned through a century

of hailed-out crops, drought and grasshoppers

Today the prairie breeze breathes the same scent

as her heirloom handkerchiefs

The sweet violet toilet water sacheted in drawers

and splashed on after a well water wash

She lives in the pressed purple yellow

pansies that look out from

a grandmother's diary and recipe books

Butterflies, as they take flight

in the draft of turning pages

Winner of the Women's National Book Association's National Poetry Contest and first published in their publication, The Bookwoman.


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