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 and California native living in the Santa Barbara area. She has been researching her own family for almost three decades, and providing research services to others for about 8 years.

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