By John Sherman
In September 1998, on his last night on our farm, my father slept in the same room in which he’d been born in January 1915. To us and to our neighbors, that was not remarkable. However, when it somehow came up in conversation when I was a student at IU, that my father was sleeping in his birth place, my city friends thought I was making a joke or telling a lie. Their skepticism made me reflect on just how grounded we were in our farm and served as the germination of a life of writing poetry. We were farmers, set apart from the rest of society. Our lives were stable, yet much more complex than the casual passerby would ever imagine.
I received an Individual Artist Program grant from the Indiana Arts Commission in 2015 to write new poetry, visit schools, and produce a CD. I titled it Home: Stories of a Childhood Told in Poems. I chose Home because it summarized the poems’ topics and I felt a kinship with the 2016 Spirit & Place theme.
Some of the poems in Home are new; others, years ago, resonated with very diverse audiences. I was told that, in spite of ethnic, racial, and/or geographic differences, my poems about my home reflected their own.
On my last day on our farm, loading that final truckload of treasures, including a gigantic cast-iron butchering kettle I am still trying to figure out what I will do with, I stood with my camera, moving slowly in a circle, shooting what became a panorama that captures the quiet farmhouse, the distant barn, the creek, and the October trees barren of leaves. I had it made into one of my large-format posters with an accompanying poem describing two childhoods there: my father’s and mine, different, yet so very similar.
Though I have been to Jay County many times since then, I cannot drive by the farm. No longer do I crest the hill to the west, looking suddenly on the white farmhouse in the distance, made golden by evening light, with the expectation of good food, hugs, conversation, and, one hoped, gossip. For what is home without the occupants who made it so? No matter where I lived in the U.S. or overseas, I often wrote poems about that farm. It remains such a part of me. That’s why I cannot bear to see it, devoid of the loving parents, the laughter, my strong attachment to every tree and fence post, the corn to the west, the soybeans to the south.