This morning, I watched a little news item about Elsie Eiler, the sole resident of Monowi, Nebraska. Other citizens that originally populated the town either moved away for jobs or died. Now Ms. Eiler keeps the town running, so to speak, by wearing multiple hats: she is the mayor, town clerk, treasurer, secretary, tavern keeper, and chief librarian.
Surely, she doesn’t stay on for the solace; hermits aren’t typically women. And yet, “Inside the tavern, Mrs Eiler is reading a novel. ‘I picked it up from the library on the way home last night,’ she said. Her commute is a short one. The library is 10 yards away, her home another 20.”
There are other historical rubs that might encourage one to leave and forget: “At its peak, in the 1930s, Monowi was a thriving town of 150. The local railroad, which ran from Norfolk, Nebraska, to Winner, South Dakota, brought farmers and their families. But mechanisation put small farmers out of business, the railway closed in 1971 and the town began to die. Three years ago the last resident apart from the Eilers, an elderly widow, moved away to live with her son.”
But she keeps on, serving up food to regulars who drive in from local towns for her fine fixin’s and fulfilling her many duties, “Now Mrs Eiler is alone, dutifully carrying out administrative chores of Kafkaesque absurdity. She grants her own liquor licence and collects taxes from herself. Every year she must produce a municipal road plan to receive Monowi’s share of state transport funds and a budget to finance the town’s street lights — all four of them.”
The point of this blip on my blog radar? The entire notion bites a little close to the bone for me. I’m so socially (& community) needy that the term “addict” comes to mind. I had a similar red-flag reaction years ago as an undergrad when I read Marlen Haushofer’s feminist novel, THE WALL. Granted, Ms. Eiler lives out her days with not-too-distant locals stopping by; nonetheless, I imagine it’s not terribly odd to pass a day or two without anyone coming by. I don’t live like that. Won’t? Go weak in the knees when I imagine such a life?
And yet, and yet. Apropos, I met Jocelyn Saidenberg last night via Cynthia Sailers at a lovely poetry reading featuring Henry Israeli, Kate Greenstreet, Matt Henrikson, Mark Yakich, and Stacy Szymaszek. Jocelyn gave me her new book, NEGATIVITY (Atelos), and I cracked the spine this a.m. on the heels of the Eiler piece. Sometimes, serendipity assumes a posture: this random passage echoes and speaks to my wanton considerations of living in a town of one. Without further ado, an excerpt from the eighth section of NEGATIVITY called, “Carnal” — enjoy:
she means to say
or stubbornness as a means of resistance
speaking about us and for us
dread and ailments a celebrated day in liberating explosions of
losses disparities and distances dispersed in errors mistaken
detours mismade calculations faulty respirations. counter to the
stream and in plumes. the pressure trangressed in hands. nor was
there another road.
trying to gather what is gone. first by pacing. then on her hands
and knees with the measuring tape. she’s a period piece asking if.
seeking the response she is the question.
she means to say we live among a crowded scene. overcrowding
faces and malice. a crack in time painted on garden paths.
inclined to our desire. we ooze we can flourish there.
forward elephant eleven o’clock rook one o’clock apple and three
o’clock lightning perpendicular to spoon soiled underneath
apple in line with lightning in line with two cent piece face
down. all circling hunted and hunting. elephant trying to leave
the scene heading out east spoon facing west constellating failure
of identity with apple and rook.
–from NEGATIVITY by Jocelyn Saidenberg
4 Responses to “The Town of One”
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.