February 28, 2007

How to Live in the Heartland

How to Live in the Heartland by Twyla Hansen
Finished 2/22/07
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)

Poet and horticulturist Twyla Hansen was raised in Northeast Nebraska on land her grandparents farmed in the late 1880's as immigrants from Denmark. Her writing is included in the anthologies Times of Sorrow/Times of Grace, Woven on the Wind, and A Contemporary Reader for Creative Writing, among others. Her Bachelor of Science degree is from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Twyla works and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, where her wooded acre is maintained as an urban wildlife habitat, winning the Mayor's Landscape Conservation Award in 1994. Her poetry has been printed numerous literary journals. (Amazon.com)

I’ve read through this collection of poems (45 in all) twice in the past ten years. There are a couple that resonate with me, but overall I’m pretty ambivalent about the book.

Here’s an example of one I do like:

Chances Are

In the fireplace, early Sunday evening,
new logs hiss and smoke, catch fire –
oak and locust reducing to ash that
later we’ll spread in the garden.

You are drinking cabernet, its aged
burnt-oak tannins sliding downward, I’m
sipping brandy, working its concentrate
and vapors into my bloodstream, we are
floating into the realm of possibility.

Chances are we’ll say very little
to each other tonight, dinner guests gone,
our only child now on his own. All day
your hands have been cutting and fitting
and doweling lovely-grained hardwoods
into the shapes of furniture – quarter-sawn
and walnut – I’ve seen your eyes light
at the very mention of it.

Soon I’ll rise
to soak in bath oils, smooth myself over
sheets fresh off the clothesline, scent of
woodsmoke and moist earth. The room
fuzzes around us, overhead fans spin slow,
cats sprawl sleepy over chairs. Outside –
a clear, navy sky above the city.

So this is where good trees go when they die,
up in flame and ember. Chances are, I’ll say
Come join my hands. Let’s grow old, go out
in style together.

Here’s another that I found from her new book,
Potato Soup. This poem’s for you, Nan!


In the early years she helped her mother plant peels,
carry the dishpan out to the garden, digging holes.
What you eat is what you plant, her mother always said,
that edible tuber common as dirt, a near-daily staple.
One grandmother left potato country long ago for this one,
another immigrated for the promise of more potato land.
As she learned to cook, she began peeling alone at the sink,
sticking a spare slice on her tongue, smell of starch
lingering on her fingers. Mashed, fried, baked on Sundays
for hours, regular as pulsating winds over the plains.
Soon graduating to French fries in sizzling grease, to fermented
spirits of the potato. Beginning with a certain look in an eye,
relying on folklore, that time of the month safe if planted
at night under the expansive and unblinking moon. Grabbling
into the soil around roots to steal an eager potato or two.
She's fond of the skin color, the flesh, textures, exotic flavors.
Moving on to potato-salad years, quick-boiled varieties
from the hot tub. Decades here and gone; potato-love constant.
By now she's concluded it's best on gradual simmer, consolation
accompanying maturity. In the afternoon she saut├ęs onion
and butter, stirs in flour and milk, chops celery, carrot, adds
chicken stock. She thinks of the hour when they'll be eating,
into twilight, of the long night ahead in front of the fire.
Should she throw in something extra, for tang, for play--
a measure of chardonnay? All her life, she thinks, it has come
down to this, bringing the bottle up slow to meet her lips.


  1. I like these, Les - especially the first one. "the real of possibilities" is an interesting phrase.

    Hope you get unburied from the snow soon!

  2. I so, so love the first poem. It brings tears to my eyes, Les. And of course, potatoes!! I must look further into the poetry.

  3. Sharon - That is an interesting phrase. Unfortunately, it was my typo and not poetry! Should read: realm. Off to make the correction. ;)

    Nan - I thought you'd like both. :)


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