A Study of Twentieth Century Bahanic Fragments

Imagine that two millennia or so in the future, literary experts attempt to collect the glories of our literature. Most of our paper writings have crumbled into dust. All our digital files are long gone or indecipherable. English is a dead language, and many of the cultural references are a complete puzzle to them. J.B. Hare

We know that Lee Harlin Bahan lived and wrote her poems on a fourth-generation family farm outside Medora, Indiana. We have three fragments from her 1989 chapbook, Migration Solo. We will discuss each fragment.


But when I lay my earís
warmly pink complexity against one cool steel shank,
I hear the work song of the wires and am afraid.

In those days, in that place, the landscape was crosshatched with long lines of huge steel structures, linked by wires that carried electricity. This technology made a frightening music. It was almost louder and stronger than our human ears could stand. It was energy at work for an industrial nation. It was almost out of control. We co-existed with these behemoths, but no one, except Bahan, paid much attention to them. She was right to be afraid, because look what happened. She was the only one to open her ears and listen.


lace curtains that long since ceased
being white, hang pushed apart, twin columns of folds,
limp guardians of a threadbare faith in breezes.

Now it seems we are inside a building? There is a window with curtains hoping to be moved by a breeze. It must have been hot, since the window was open. It must have been still and suffocating. We were hoping for some inspiration, though our freshness and youth were long gone. We kept the window open and the curtains parted. We were open to the slightest sound or sensation. And yes, there was a time, long ago, in that place, when Bahan had faith. She was the only one to open her window and wait patiently.


In the pasture, my horse lifts her tail and shits.

There was a pasture, and perhaps this was Bahanís horse. This sounds like a rural place. We are curious about the use of the word ďshitsĒ in a poem. We know that popular culture of the time was rife with foul language. But we sense that Bahan was a poet of high diction who didnít often use so-called four-letter words. We see from fragments 1 and 2 that Bahan was a sensitive, open poet. We might speculate that Bahan was also a down-to-earth poet, one who was not afraid to include the reality of metabolism in her poems. We feel slightly bewildered by the word, both drawn to its honesty and repelled by its crudeness. Are we uplifted by this line? Or do we feel too shocked by truth to see beauty?

Sometimes we wonder if Bahan was the only poet of this time, long ago, who had a horse. Itís almost as if these three fragments contain an entire world and time that is lost to us forever. And yet, we still have ears, energy, breezes, and shit. We might have faith in these things, even if we have to fly migration solo.

Lee Harlin Bahan is a poet and translator with a Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University of Bloomington. Her chapbook, MIGRATION SOLO, won the first Indiana Poetry Chapbook Contest and was published in 1989 by the Writersí Center Press of Indianapolis.

Mary Meriamís first book of poems, The Countess of Flatbroke (Modern Metrics 2006) features an afterword by Lillian Faderman and cover design by R. Nemo Hill. In 2006, Mary was awarded Honorable Mention in Poetry by the Astraea Foundation. Her poems and essays have been published in Light, The Shit Creek Review, and Umbrella, among others.

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