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.


14 Responses to “Unlocking the poetry within an abandoned farmhouse”

  1. Jackie Says:

    Love love love this poem and the old farm house photo, Makes me want to go inside (did you?) I enjoyed this post and how you can relate to this old farmhouse. I can agree totally with your ending statement. “I see both beauty and despair, in abandoned farmhouses” .

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Jackie. Actually, I snapped this photo as we were driving along Minnesota Highway 19. I barely got the image in time. So, no, we did not stop. I wasn’t dressed appropriately to trudge through snow and muck anyway. I’ve never explored the interior of an abandoned farmhouse. But I certainly will entertain the idea if the opportunity presents itself and I am in the proper attire.

  2. Bernie Bowman Says:

    Loving the poem, Audrey. As young girls, my sisters and I would walk or ride bike to an abandoned farmsite about a half mile from our house. We could go in and explore, room by room. To this day, I can close my eyes and still see every room in that house. Sadly, it was torn down, but I too look at abandoned farms, houses, and wonder about families that lived there and all the memories that were left there.
    Thanks….still enjoying your posts! Bernie

    On a side note, just received my Minnesota Moments magazine…love the picture on the front cover, and the pictures from the small towns!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Bernie. I’m so happy you commented and shared your memory of that abandoned farmhouse near Vesta. I saw your mom at my mom’s 80th birthday party and mentioned that you hadn’t commented in some time. Glad you’re still on board as a reader and are enjoying my posts.

      Since you loved the cover image on Minnesota Moments, check out more of Ryan Ware’s photography at his Fleeting Farms blog. I know you’ll appreciate his pix from rural Minnesota.

      For every image I had in that magazine photo essay on small towns, I have many, many, many more. It was a fun package to pull together.

      • Bernie Bowman Says:

        Oh how I love small towns, so good to know there are more stories with pictures! Will you put more in the magazine?? I usually page through it when I get it, then slowly go through it again and again….

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I can run the idea past my editor. I thought, too, that perhaps this could be more than a one-time photo essay. So happy you appreciate small towns.

  3. From Moments to Memories Says:

    WOW, really enjoyed this. I also love barns and abandoned buildings and love to take photos of them. I haven’t posted my recent ones lately, but will soon, on my own photography blog. LOVE that poem.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you. This poem seems to resonate with lots of readers. I just checked out your photo blog and really liked what I saw. You’ve got the eye and the technical skills, and most important, the passion, for photography.

      • From Moments to Memories Says:

        Thank you. I wish I could make $$ at it, but we know how that goes. I am happy just taking the photos, as say, I am very passionate about it.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Don’t dismiss the possibility of making money from your photos. I’ve sold several images that people have found via my blog. That said, my desire would be to earn, on a regular basis, income from my blogging. It is a goal I hope to someday achieve. One must have goals and dreams.

  4. Your poem makes me thoughtful – as in full of thought. Great depiction to go with your photo. Did your family re-use the boards from the house you tore down? Such things are worth money now! (The boards and such, I mean!)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Alas, we tore down that old house with no thought for saving a single sentimental piece. We kids pounded and pulled the nails from the lathes, which were then bundled and taken to town. We sold them in the hardware store at some unreasonably low price. Oh, how I would like now to have even one board from that old house.

  5. I just came across your farmhouse photo and poem. Fabulous! I live in East Tennessee where there are many abandoned old farmhouses and barns. Having rescued our home, I would love to rescue one of them as well, but unfortunately most are too far gone. As in your photograph, the old beauties have such a haunting quality about them…

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