So… This is Nebraska

 Several of my maternal ancestors settled in the Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa area. As my entry for the Second Great American Local Poem And Song Genealogy Challenge, hosted by West in New England, I offer this poem written by Ted Kooser (1939 –    ), from his book, Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems (Pitt Poetry Series).Mr. Kooser is noted for his works about “the trials and troubles of inhabitants of the Midwest, heirlooms and objects of the past, and observation(s) of everyday life.” Sounds like a book I’ll want to add to my collection.

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So This Is Nebraska
by Ted Kooser
The gravel road rides with a slow gallop
over the fields, the telephone lines
streaming behind, its billow of dust
full of the sparks of redwing blackbirds.
On either side, those dear old ladies,
the loosening barns, their little windows
dulled by cataracts of hay and cobwebs
hide broken tractors under their skirts.
So this is Nebraska. A Sunday
afternoon; July. Driving along
with your hand out squeezing the air,
a meadowlark waiting on every post.
Behind a shelterbelt of cedars,
top-deep in hollyhocks, pollen and bees,
a pickup kicks its fenders off
and settles back to read the clouds.
You feel like that; you feel like letting
your tires go flat, like letting the mice
build a nest in your muffler, like being
no more than a truck in the weeds,
clucking with chickens or sticky with honey
or holding a skinny old man in your lap
while he watches the road, waiting
for someone to wave to. You feel like
waving. You feel like stopping the car
and dancing around on the road. You wave
instead and leave your hand out gliding
larklike over the wheat, over the houses.

Ted Kooser, “So This Is Nebraska” from Sure Signs. Copyright © 1980 by Ted Kooser. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Source:

Photo of the barn, above, is a stock photo, and not a picture of one of my ancestors homes (unfortunately).

Copyright © by Elizabeth O’Neal

Elizabeth is a professional genealogist, writer, and consultant. Likes: long walks in the cemetery, and the smell of old courthouse books. Dislikes: people who copy stuff off the internet without giving credit, and county clerks who can't tell the difference between Eastern and Pacific time zones. Secretly hopes her daughter will one day develop an interest in family history (but no luck so far).

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  1. Such great imagery. I could see that old pickup sitting there.

    Thanks for participating,Elizabeth!

  2. I loved reading Ted Kooser’s poetry on your blog today. He’s a special treasure to Nebraskans and is a former poet laureate of the U.S. There’s also a school named in his honor here in Lincoln.

  3. Even the “stock photo” of the barn takes me back to the western Iowa farm where I was born and raised.

    Thanks for sharing! 😉

  4. Weren’t those some beautiful words? I could really “see” Nebraska (mostly as I’d always imagined it) in this poem. I’m hoping Susan will take me on a tour, if I ever get out that way… someday! 😉

    Dr. Bill, the original stock photo was actually quite contemporary (there were several different versions available), but someone “doctored” it up to look like an old postcard. I think they did a nice job.

    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words!

  5. I’ll be glad to show you around anytime!

  6. Susan, can you believe that I’ve got family in Bellevue, but they have NO INTEREST in genealogy?? I’ve tried to send him out to a few cemeteries and courthouses, but he won’t go. My current threat is that I’m going to drive out there – WITH my daughter – and park myself at his house for a few weeks to do the research myself. I think he’s worried that I’ll really do it (I actually might)!

  7. Great picture of Nebraska, Elizabeth. I’ve never been there, and this poem is perfect.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Elizabeth. This one’s a keeper… it’s so vivid! This is the kind of poem that makes me wish I could write poetry.

  9. Judith & T.K. – Glad you enjoyed the poem. I’m very glad I found it, and hope to purchase Mr. Kooser’s book in the future. Looks like some great stuff!

  10. Real poetry. I shall think of it each time my hand is hanging out the window, squeezing the air. Thanks so for posting this, Elizabeth.

  11. In the past few years I’ve travelled the Ohio-to-Idaho-route several times, straight through the middle of Nebraska. This poem captures the feel of Nebraska: wide open spaces, sometimes overgrown, and the lack of hurry and bustle. This is a beautiful poem, one I would probably never have read if you hadn’t shared it. Thank you.


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