SD Poets You Should Know: Lindy Obach

Lindy Obach is originally from North Dakota but now resides in Sioux Falls and teaches for the University of South Dakota at the University Center. Her poems about growing up on a farm in the Dakotas in the late 20th century will resonate with other Dakotans, and her explorations of emotion and relationships, particularly within her family, are particularly apt. If you want me to break out my English major terms, I would say that she unites the pastoral and the confessional, or post-confessional, so perfectly that you forget those are traditions from separate eras. Here’s a poem of hers from The Blue Bear Review called “The Old Red Trail”:

The Old Red Trail

Mid-December: I am on my way home.
slicing through cornfields that give way
to sugarbeets that give way to pasture,

mapped with the criss-cross of cattle trails.
My used Ford is packed with three semesters
of grad school, overstuffed like the cannoli

I ate at the State Fair last summer, that tasted
like deep-fryer and, somehow, New York City to me,
though I’ve never been.

The drive is long like a 36-inch inseam and as
predictable as cheap, canned beer on a Friday evening.
I scan the horizon for something amazing:

a pack of leathered bikers with frozen beards.
A plaid-hatted farmer doing a little
controlled burning that is suddenly, uncontrollable.

It’s quiet this afternoon, though. Still as well water.
I need something loud,
but as tenderized as this stretch of I-29 is,

the radio crackles and hisses and proselytizes at me.
When the numbers finally stop on a clear channel,
it makes me sad. Today, Paul Harvey

isn’t sweet, and he doesn’t remind me of the farm.
Today, his old voice talks of a pregnant woman
found murdered and childless, of

a Philadelphia orchestra conductor who threw
himself out of a window. Almost,
I begin to cry.

It’s winter. The land at the Dakota border
is beaten down by wind and bone dry.
Nobody is talking snow.

The detail here, the detail of what I feel is MY landscape, is so beautiful, and those stories from the radio are so heart-wrenching, and the speaker’s empathy for these people she’s never met is so endearing that I am completely won over by this poem. I love the details of this world, “still as well water” (great image, great consonance, great alliteration, great reference to the imagistic lexicon of Dakotans), and I particularly respond to the fifth stanza:

a pack of leathered bikers with frozen beards.
A plaid-hatted farmer doing a little
controlled burning that is suddenly, uncontrollable.

Lindy Obach does what the best poets of place do—she shows me my world in a way that is somehow both fresh and recognizable. She has a chapbook, North of Zenith, just out from Finishing Line Press, so check it out!

Featured image by Mike Ault under the creative commons license on Flickr. Post by Barbara Duffy.

Read about more South Dakota poets.

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