Literature 4-16-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Jana Bouma

Read "Hearing the News" by Jana Bouma, this week's winning poem selected by series coordinator Lightsey Darst. PLUS: We're in the midst of a new call for your What Light poetry submissions:the deadline is April 19.

Jana Bouma

Hearing the News

January 19, 1873

It was twelve days

before we realized
before each one could hear
the same story from Arthur
and Bertie and William
Three days for the storm to stop blowing
Another two to dig one’s way
to the hog pen and the barn
to throw hay to the starving mare
Another week before
the wagons could make their way to town
before folks could hear
who lived
who had died
who lay with frozen
blackened feet

waiting for the surgeon.

I felt the storm’s chill again
as Mathias told the story
how after the search party returned home
he spotted John treading the path to the barn
wearing his favorite, the blue soldier overcoat,
his hands tucked up under the cape.

     “‘John Weston! We thought you were frozen to death!’
     ‘I am,’ came the reply, ‘and you’ll find my body

     in the Brickman slough.’

     Before I could answer, he had vanished.”

I couldn’t speak

that afternoon

sitting with John’s widow,
my sister,
when she told me she’d been roused in the night
by a rap on the door
and a voice that called out,

     “Do you know your husband’s frozen to death?”
     “Francis and I both flew to the door,

     but there was no one there, and no track
     in the snow.”


The snow storm of 1873 (the term “blizzard” hadn’t come into use in 1873) killed seventy Minnesotans and, through severe frostbite, crippled many more. Hearing the News is one of several poems to spring from my perusal of archival documents relating to local Minnesota history.


Jana Bouma received her PhD in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she taught for eight years. Her work has appeared in The 2River View and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and is forthcoming in Valparaiso Review. She is president of the Southern Minnesota Poets Society. She lives with her husband and daughter in Madison Lake, Minnesota.

This week’s poetry and wine pairing: Alexander Vineyards’ New Gewurz 2006

Alexander Vineyards’ New Gewurz 2006 holds a place of distinction: it is among the first wines in California from the new vintage, bottled and released within 6 weeks of harvest, usually around the first week of November. Produced in an off-dry style, the New Gewurz is reminiscent of the great wines of France’s Alsace region. Most of the fruit for the New Gewurz comes from cooler climate vineyards in Mendocino. To capture and enhance the lively, spicy characteristics of this varietal, the chilled juice is cold-fermented and then the wine is immediately bottled. This lively wine is a great spring and summer sipper. It’s also a perfect partner for spice ethnic cuisine like Thai or Mexican.