Women of the West Agate Teacher Writing Workshop 2018

Moments of Grace

By Jan Knispel

On these rolling green hills

Are the footprints of women--

Strong, independent

Free in soul and in mind

Moving, pushing, pulling

Through their lives

Springing up fresh and green

Like the prairie penstemon.

Each growing from

the roots of childhood

Moving with the green fuse

Of youthful sap,

roses blooming cheeks and lips

Growing with the glow of the future,

Sipping the Sweetness of honeyed


Like a bee from flower to flower,

Child to child.

Bruised by unconcerned feet,

Trampling sometimes on the promise,

Backs bent like snapped stems,

Desiccated wild flowers in winter,

Dying, knowing their scattered seed will grow.

Young Once

By Tess Sykes

Sepia, the beige, dusty color of old, of indistinct,

A still life of dreamy lines and shadows

where information is lost even in the having of it.

Sepia, for heavy, weighty, otherness -- for history I see somehow

void of the indigo, poppy red, oceanside and ultra-violet,

paint-swatch bright colors of the 21st century.

Sepia, a tone created by magical photographers

who stole an image and, in darkness, fixed it to glass.

Portraits of those unnaturally still, unsmiling,

A once-in-a-lifetime stolen moment.

That a simple twitch, an itch, could ruin.

These cameos of love, or grotesque reminders of death,

Of brown rolling desert and dust and dark hats.

I have pitied them, these stoic lives in sepia.

I have never imagined them laughing. Ever.

And then, one day, I saw my own color fade.

(It started with my hair.)

And then began to leak from life.

Students brought us a project titled -- "The 1980s"

with its matching black and white color scheme.

It was cute, funny for a moment, struggling to convince

eager 17-year-olds that neon was also 1980s,

and Madonna, and television was color, too.

I felt the eye-rolling disbelief churning off them.

And then, I felt sepia.

I re-examined the photos,

Tried to stare down the browns,

Tried to re-imagine how nearly similar their fears and loves must have been.

Tried to see beyond what’s gained to what might be lost.

Tried to dig into the dirt, to wipe away the gravel.

To understand. To know despite what I could see.

They laughed and lived in color,

Perhaps even had what I do not.

A bright white butterfly's wing, a sunshine yellow prairie flower,

A shadow of blue or green in the waving grass.

Now absent, now lost, paved over with progress.

Colors buried in miles of black asphalt, grey metal, white plastic.

Slick and smooth and monotone.

The truth is undeniable: sepia was young once, too.

Reading the Rest

By Jan Knispel

Living separate and unread lives,

The breadth of what we don’t know





The geological formations

of a popcorn kernel,

The cause of wrinkles around the eyes,

The biological process of infection,

rejection, cure (thought to be understood)

far more vast than my mind can comprehend.

Layers of soil so definitive that a geologist

Can locate its origin and contents, while I

See dirt and wild yucca, sunflower, thistle.

We, like the soil,

the sum of our geomorphology:

DNA, nature vs nurture

Love lost, love gained

The layers of our lives.

Eleanor at Harold’s Lasso Throwing - Prose in three voices

By Brenda Larabee

Voice of Innocence (1st person present)

I am astonished she could call that great. He didn’t connect with the lasso. Why is she (Margaret Krozer) applauding mediocrity? How can she hope he will get better if she gives him unwarranted praise? I totally get that he tried, but trying and not succeeding just means more effort and practice are needed. If it’s not actually great, amazing, unforgettable, for heaven’s sake don’t tell him it is. Expect more, expect better. What’s that saying? You will get from people what you expect of them - well, expect him to succeed.

Voice of Experience (2nd person past)

You were so demanding of those surrounding you. It would have been easier to applaud that day if your expectations hadn’t been so high. You may have remained married if you had been able to give praise more easily, but you chose the path of high standards and now the praise of you chimes in from all those who thrived on that high standard at Chadron State College and well beyond.

Your marriage may have been saved, but you would not have been truthful to your own self and you would not have set a good example for your daughters. You were being watched and the example you set has rippled through many generations of not only your family, but the innumerable families of your students. They thank you - you did well!

You made the world a better place. You fulfilled a piece of the bigger picture.

Voice of “God” (3rd person)

He rolled that rope off his finger and threw it as best he could at that moment. She is enamored with the man - can’t wait to return home to tell him how proud of his attempt she is. What a good example of perseverance he is for their daughters and how lucky the girls are to have an example from a man unafraid of mistakes and failed attempts.

Her eyes glisten as she sweetly thinks of the tender moments they will share laughing as teenagers about the too-quick release that caused the attempt or the silly Margaret Krozer who didn’t know anything about lasso throwing and thought that was exceptional. She and he will stay up way too late basking in the memories and completely enchanted by the possibilities yet to come as together they lead the adventures of their daughters.

What Happened Here? - Carnegie Hill

By Brenda Larabee

As the sun sets, a storm is moving in from the west. We can see the expanse of it as we graze and drink with our families. Here’s Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad, and all of our aunts, uncles and cousins gathering together for the evening drink. As soon as we finish, we will return to our bedding zone and wait out the storm under the canopy of our shelter.

Mom rushes us to our bedding site - the rains are coming in more powerful than she is comfortable with.

Grandma and Grandpa begin to show agitation and frustration as the storm rolls in at a most dangerous pace.

The water is falling from the sky but rising so fast we can’t find higher ground in time. I see my cousins gasping and grasping - trying to hold on, but they are washed away - we are next - here we go!!! Blub...Blub...Bluuu


By Jan Knispel

The compliant one

Following his spoken and unspoken orders

Doing the expected things

Running a well-ordered home,

Welcoming his Lakota and ranching friends

Producing his son.

Doing Woman’s Work: planting gardens,

Reaping the household crops, preserving food,

While James wandered the world away

To the bluffs, the grasslands,

The shale beds and limestone quarries

Gathering bones, communing with Lakota,

Finding his fancy as whim and wind took him.

Her rebellion was stunning in her vehemence

Hurling a plate at the stubborn head of a man

Refusing his son’s desired education.

Harold’s hunt to explore, be more,

More educated

Expanded, experienced.

So, would she fare far

To be constrained, confined,

Far from family, that boy she elocuted

And advocated for.


By Diana Weis

Kate Cook threw a plate at her husband's head.

And I can't help but think this piece of fragmented pottery,

embedded here on the Fort Robinson prairie,

tells a part of that tale;

the secrets, the emotions, the care of and for the future

that it took to hurl that plate at his head.

Unable to speak to her husband the way Native women did

by shoving his belongings out in the world

for him to sift through like she did for

the diamond in the ash.


By Diana Weis

After a short introductory conversation about the coolness of this July,

Alice hands me an earring she created out of porcupine quill.

"It's ten dollars," she says, "We use the money to put gas in our car.

So different from Randilynn who creates everyday items in order

to creates to keep her children wearing who they are wearing themselves

and their culture.

A strengthening they can carry into their womanhood

leaving behind their childhood

where she gathered for them all

they would need for their journey from the three

grandmothers they came down from.

It's not art to her, rather who she is:

a mother strengthening her daughters

through bead work, tradition, culture, and truth.

Knowing, like the women of the west before her,

that their work is building their family: their people: their art.

weaving the tapestry of. community.


By Jan Knipsel

I wrote my own

The details of my birth—blizzard baby

Date of demise blank. The chemicals

And causes of education and educating.

My limited experience and expressions

Fears, foibles, illnesses and irritations

Proud days, overly preening awards,

Lacking ambition, a lazy cat.

I wrote my mother’s obituary:

Omitting her eight-year-old prank

Of running the alley behind her grandfather’s

Store to stop the passing Lakota shopper with

How, Kola. Standing in the school yard at Lost Nation

School, waving at the B-52’s airman waving back.

Dining room dancing to the radio’s Glenn Miller.

Near-death experiences, pregnancies,

Miscarriages, her husband’s violence,

protection orders, divorce,

surgeries and sadnesses.

Anger at her mother’s illness,

mental and physical,

perpetrated on her children,

abandoning them

with magazines and ice cream,

back out the door to toil.

Her father’s alcoholism hidden

But as obvious as a wart with his temporary

Abandonments of family.

Marcella loved poppies, jewelry, and

Wild yellow roses, the joy of seeing figures in

Clouds that I couldn’t. Fearful of

Invaders in her home, never seen, never heard,

But suspected, unannounced and furtive.

I could not delve into the layers of her life

Or the sediments of pain she built, covered

with the flood of tears.

She preached education to her daughters:

Stand strong, emotionally, financially

Alone. “You can always get married.”

One did; one didn’t,

Her son’s ending in divorce.

Choosing to live mentally isolated, to

Take care of the son who should have

Cared for her.

The layers of life we share or bury

Lie, linger in our minds

On the maps of our bodies.

Collapsing in death

Leaving only

The framework of life

The nail holes and

Infinite cracks in foundations


From the museum collection at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
From the museum collection at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
From the museum collection at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Top Left - Beaded work on vest and tools; Right: Gretchen Meade explaining painted skin of a battle which hung in her grandparent's home; Bottom Left: Abraham Lincoln's cane gifted to several people before Cook Bottom Middle: Kate Cook's moccasins)


By Diana Weis

Striation after striations of clouds stretch

across the Agate horizon

wrapping into the bone bed.

Wind carrying the story of place

sediment by sediment over the top

and down the advancing edge,

and its left to us, with untrained eyes

to decipher its message through

the rock, plants, and soil around us,

us and the chatty flies.

This Woman, This Woman

By Jan Knispel

This Woman This Woman

Black cascading hair gray hair clinging

white shell earrings, trifocals--staring in awe

framing face, dark eyes. At traditional arts.

This Woman This woman

Lakota, Dakota, Dineh Swedish, German, English

This Woman This Woman

Traditional Teacher of Secondary Teacher of

Tanning, Beading symbols of Macbeth the murderer

Husband, children, family, Beowulf, Grendel killer

Tribe and nation. Tales of Canterbury, not her own.

This Woman This Woman

Scraping and smoking hides Traditional artist of

Making moccasins, log cabin quilts, not quilled

Leggings of leather worn Beading bracelets with no history

Beneath her daughter’s Batik building with flower buds

Young womanhood dress. Poetry writing of girlhood

This Woman This Woman

Speaking traditional language Speaking the language of poetry

Traditional artist teaching job skills, research writing

Building cradleboards drama and speech competition

Building her culture Resting from the rigors of educating

In her daughters of other people’s children

For her/their future. For her/their future.

This Woman

gray hair clinging

trifocals--staring in awe

At traditional arts.

This Woman

Swedish, German, English

This Woman

Secondary Teacher of

Macbeth the murderer

Beowulf, Grendel killer

Tales of Canterbury, not her own.

This Woman

Traditional artist of

log cabin quilts, not quilled

Beading bracelets with no history

Batik building with flower buds

Poetry writing of girlhood

This Woman

Speaking the language of poetry

teaching job skills, research writing

drama and speech competition

Resting from the rigors of educating

of other people's children

For her/their future.

Created By
Diana Weis

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