Fargo, 1957:
an Elegy

“They have all gone into the world of light!”
—Henry Vaughan

My grandmother, Phoebe Olson:


When our dead
die like that
uncomfortable as we are to do it,
tend to canonize.
We make saints of our own.

We learn to forget
scandals and failings.
We convince ourselves
that to speak ill of our dead
is a sin.

Even in the cemetery,
we never walk on their graves.
We step lightly
hopping and skipping about
not because we’re superstitious.
We do it because it’s disrespectful.

And when we do say their names,
we whisper them,
just as we do the Sacred Names
we use in our prayers.

We whisper their names
because, for us, they are sacred—
they are precious and holy
in ways they would find uncomfortable.

Ah, so this
is what it will sound like!
This is that last
terrible sound.

This is the tune
the angel
will know
on that last unending Day
when he puts the
trumpet to his lips
and blows.

And today
like that awful last day
when we hear it
we scatter.
We stumble over each other
searching for shelter—
for safety—
from the wrath.

Let this not be
the last sound we hear!
Let this not be
what our ears hold fast
as we go up into the winds.

let it be a whisper.
Let it be the quiet hush
of a warm breeze
at the end of the sweetest day.
Let it be the gentle
of our pulsing life
gasping in our ears.  
Poems copyright (c) 2010 by Jamie Parsley
In the early evening of Thursday, June 20, 1957, a tornado struck the city
of Fargo, North Dakota. When it was done, ten people lay dead (three
more would later die from their injuries), a city was devastated and
countless lives would never be the same again.

Among the dead were two relatives of Jamie Parsley, a poet and an
Episcopal priest, who was born almost thirteen years after the storm. In
this evocative and moving elegy of the storm and its victims, Parsley, an
Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota, weaves a heartbreaking story of
loss, poetry, pain, faith and, ultimately, renewal, and  gives voice to those
victims who, before now, were unable to speak for themselves.
Fargo, 1957
is the story of the resilience and fortitude of the people who survived the
storm and those who did not.
from the Institute for Regional Studies at
North Dakota State University
plus postage: $4.00 for the first book,
$1.00 for each additional book

Orders can be made to
The North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies
North Dakota State University
Dept # 2360
P.O. Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050


Fargo, 1957 page at
The North Dakota Institute for Regional