Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Unlocking the poetry within an abandoned farmhouse April 30, 2012

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

Abandoned Farmhouse

My old bones rattle in the winter wind,
grown weary from years of standing,
bitter cold encompassing my body.

Despair surrounds me
like rot in the weathered heap of the barn,
like rust consuming the junk pile.

Alone, all alone now, abandoned
except for the dying circle of trees
that embrace me, holding me close.

The years have broken my spirit—
too much silence within my walls,
too many tears shed upon my floors.

Left here, without laughter, without hope.
Dreams shattered in my broken windows.
My door closed, locked with a skeleton key.

Abandoned. Desolate. Alone.
Leaning only on the prairie sky,
in a circle of dying trees.


IN 2001, THIS POEM published in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 3. To this day, it remains one of my favorite poems among all those I’ve penned.

“Abandoned Farmhouse” retains that status because the poem connects to my past, to rural southwestern Minnesota where I grew up in a cramped 1 1/2-story wood-frame farmhouse. When I was 11 years old, my parents built a rambler with a walk-in basement a stone’s throw across the circular gravel driveway from the old house. They needed the space for their growing family as the sixth, and final, child arrived in August of 1967.

The summer after we moved into the new house, we tore down the old house, board by board. Memories of dismembering that house lath by lath, nail by nail, imprinted upon my memory. Decades later I would recall the bones of the old house, the skeleton key that unlocked the porch door, the grove of trees that sheltered it from the strong winds that swept across the prairie.

I would write this poem, personifying an abandoned farmhouse.

My poetic words reach beyond my childhood home, though, to embrace the many abandoned farmhouses that dot the prairie landscape. I often wonder about the families that lived in these houses and about the stories they would tell.

Returning to an even earlier time period, my poem also reflects a pervasive loneliness that often troubled early pioneer women in a land that could feel desolate, harsh and inhospitable.

This past March, I captured that desolation in an abandoned farmhouse photo (above) taken within five miles of my childhood home. It aptly illustrates my poem.

To this day, I see both beauty, and despair, in abandoned farmhouses.

©  Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Shared with you in celebration of National Poetry Month, which ends today, April 30.