Rivers, Wings, & Sky

A collaboration between Nancy Losacker and Poet Norma Wilson

Nancy Losacker and Norma Wilson have been collaborating since 2008. In July 2013, the two received a grant from the South Dakota Arts Council to assist them in taking their collaboration to galleries in South Dakota and other states. In 2014, the SD Humanities Council awarded Wilson and Losacker with a Media Grant for presentations on the exhibit. Rivers, Wings & Sky is now a Speaker's Bureau Program, and Wilson and Losacker spoke about their collaboration at the 2015 South Dakota Book Festival.

Their first showing of Rivers, Wings & Sky was at Mount Marty College's Bede Gallery on September 30, 2013 and closed with a Reception, Reading and Gallery Talk. They expanded their exhibit for a second show at the University of South Dakota's Atrium Gallery in January 2014. Since then it has been shown at Spirit Room Gallery, Fargo, ND; Yankton Area Arts hosted the exhibit at GAR Gallery, Yankton, SD; Vangarde Arts, Sioux City, Iowa; Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, SD; Sioux City Iowa Art Center, Sioux City, SD and Augustana College's Center for Western Studies, Sioux Falls, SD.

The exhibit culminated in a book, Rivers, Wings & Sky which was published in 2016 by Scurfpea Publishing. The book can be purchased here.


Valentine’s Day

Waking to a white world, rejoice in stillness
before the deer, raccoons
and we make tracks
on white paths
down to the icy
pond and spring.

Snow flocks cedars,
outlining limbs
of cottonwood, ash
and mulberry

Morning breezes
sweep the powder off
to fall again--
Ivory snow flakes

Golden grasses cradle
the precious snow,
as white silence calms
the waking birds.

A Cardinal’s red spark
is a sweet promise
waking the sun
to melt
the snow
and quench
those deep thirsts
that clean our air
warm our blood
and turn the world


The White Wing

The Keeper of the White Wing
rode ill with pneumonia
to save his people.

Bearing a white flag
he sought peace.
But others would fight.
At Wounded Knee
the soldiers’ guns
killed for hours.

That December day
two hundred fifty Lakotas
and twenty-five soldiers died.
After the slaughter
a blizzard flew
from the North.
As an elder shouted,
“The wing, the wing!,”
the gravedigger threw
the blood-stained white wing
into the burial trench.

A century later,
white-winged birds
ride the North winds
soaring over the curving river
glistening with sunlight,
the checkered fields
of green and brown,
the river banks
with umbrella-like shade
that once
belonged to all.
Even birds sharing seeds
seem to know
that Earth’s abundance
is the white wing of peace,
falling to earth
as flakes of snow.


Blue Jay Blue

How could we ignore you,
strong-willed Jaybird?

Walking on air,
you search for seeds
to eat right now.
You hog the feeder
and guard your nest.

With your strong black beak,
you dive-bomb
humans and hawks
who get too close.

Storer of seeds.
planter of oaks,
some folks say
you help the Devil
in Hell Fridays
then fly back
to play on Saturday.

Blue Jay,
we hear your raucous cries.

Sunday, you hover above
the Asian poppies,
wings spread like Icarus,
light as a spirit
in flight.

Blue jay, you color America
bluer than sky.


Cherries Waiting

In the orchard at home
cherries are red and
waiting for beaks
or fingers to pluck them.

In the orchard at home
the plum tree has never
borne fruit. An oriole
gathers its sighs.

Wild plums are content
and laden with tart fruit.
They thrive on sparse rain.
Afternoons they’re all napping.

By a neighboring pond
two sisters dangle their feet
waiting for blue gills to
gently brush their ankles.

In the orchard at home
cherries are red and
waiting, but the sisters
are watching for fish.


The Long View

More than ten thousand years have passed
since the last glacier shaped this bluff
undulating down to alluvial plain.

From the highest point on Turkey Ridge,
we gaze at Nebraska’s bluff above the Missouri
twenty-five miles away.

Here at the center of our horizon,
we know we belong to the Earth,
to all the places, people
and other beings
this Earth sustains.

In seasons more stressed each year
by burning fossil fuels, tall-grass prairie
with deep, carbon-sequestering roots
is turned under and replaced
with soybeans, wheat, and corn.

Can the river bottomland sustain these crops
planted with herbicides and pesticides
on every inch of soil
with a near-sighted vision
of this year’s profit?

From our sheltered home
beneath the brow of the ridge,
we hear and see the power of thunder and wind
as rare horizontal rain sweeps across from the west.

Deep in our roots
we know we all must be fed
by the Earth beneath our feet.
Like Earth, we rely on Sky.

Only the long view
of generations who lived here
before us and of those who will live
here after we are gone
can keep us free.


Monarch Crossing

Each September, fewer orange chiffon Monarchs
flit across the bluff to rest on cottonwoods
and willows around our pond.
Fiery wings
flutter in waning sunlight
waiting to fly across the Missouri
and Gulf to Mexico’s Oyamel fir trees.

Delicate wings carry them two thousand miles,
without passports, to the Sierra Madre del Sur.
Exhausted they sleep on mountaintops
all winter.
When March sunlight wakes them, they
mate, and the Kings die. The Queens fly north,
to lay their eggs on Milkweed. Then they also die.

Caterpillar babies
hatch in just four days,
eat Milkweed leaves
for two weeks,
attach to twigs,
exude their jeweled
chrysalis, and begin

Emerging after ten days, their wings unfold
to fly. But only the fourth generation
migrates south. Monarcha Mariposa
are dear
to Mexico’s forest people
who see in their flight the revived spirits
of children who lost the struggle to survive.

Will we ever stop burning fuels that warm
the planet and kill the Oyamel firs?
Will we ever transition to
sun and wind?
Will we ever enact
neighborly laws to sustain
the monarchs, trees and migrants?

Without balance, we hang.



Even in seasons of drought,
finches turn yellow-gold;
and cherry trees don
pale pink crowns
more fragile
than glass.

We rely on the wind
and clouds
to provide.
Yet thunderstorms
cause updrafts. Air
rises and cools.
Ice crystals form
and grow into stones
too heavy to float.

Hail smashes
the blossoms of spring.
Yet after the storm,
sun dazzles Earth’s jewels,
warming the backs
of turtles, Mallards, snakes.

Earth grows tipsy in spring!

A turkey struts
with tail fan wide.

We breathe in
wild plums’ sweet breath.

At night we check
the forecast,
fingers crossed that
we won’t get frost.

Days we’re lucky,
rain gently washes lace-
like flowers and lime green
leaves as grass glows



Looking down
on the golden trees
from the helicopter
as she lay behind me
on the gurney,

I said, Mother, I’m here with you—
I wish you could see.

It was a near-death vision
of the earth we loved.

She died from a fall
that perfect fall day
she might have chosen.

In autumn
when the sky is blue
with floating clouds,
I hear her say,

Where there’s blue sky, there’s hope—
Cumulous clouds mean it’s not going to rain.

The day she was buried
she rode for the first time
in a white limousine, north
past Spirit Mound
to her grave.
Behind her I knew
I could not stop death.

But each autumn
when there’s gold in the mulberry leaves,
I hear her say again,

There’s no more beautiful view anywhere—

I love you more than anyone else.


Haikuing the River

Cottonwoods anchor
banks above the Missouri.
Chartreuse leaves dancing.

A cormorant flies
low over the gray water
like a black arrow.

Stippling our river
rain drops bounce on top, flowing,
down to muddy beds.

A canvas back duck
with russet head and red eyes
down the river glides.

Boneless paddlefish,
with sieve-like gill rakers, trap
microscopic food.

Turtles need islands
and sandbars for laying eggs.
Please do not disturb.

On river marshes
immature bald eagles fish
in shallow water.

Serpentine River
Grand road east to Saint Louis
Roiling Dream Shaper

Rolling, rolling, row-
ing on the river, we pass
time as time passes.


The Snow Bird’s Nest Egg

They migrate to or from
their brushy southern winter homes
in early fall and late March.

Here on the flyway,
look for white crowns
at prairie’s edge.

They eat mosquitoes and spiders
wherever they find them
and always bring songs.

Have you heard
this quintessential snow bird’s
pink of alarm?

In July, lucky Alaskans
hear their trills—
dear-dear-buzz buzz buzz
and see their mating flutters.

On the tundra, mothers line
their tiny nests of grass
with moose or caribou hair
to cradle speckled eggs
half an inch long.

They turn their eggs
and hatchlings
to warm them.

Will fathers find enough berries and bugs
in surrounding shrub
to grow their babies strong enough to fly?

As Earth’s climate changes
the white-crowned sparrow’s nest egg
depends on us.


Sharing the Lead

A trillion times worse
than naughty children
we fight over dark life blood
distilled from ancestral sands.

Wanting all of it
we melt the ancient glaciers
to race from place to place
for the green paper dollar.

We deplete our planet with wars
polluting the quiet of falling snow,
the joyous barks of geese as they glide
in constant motion, sharing the lead.

From deep in the Earth
clean water flows.
Bluestem and buffalo grass
shine. Sunlight feeds us
each spring, summer, fall
and throughout the winter.

When will we stop fighting?
Know our enemies as friends,
resources we must cherish
on Earth we must share.


River Song

They lived in small gray shacks
on the bank of the muddy Cumberland
where men with cane poles caught
catfish for their families to eat
until the nineteen fifties
when the City tore their houses down
and moved the people
we called “colored”
to Lincoln Homes apartments
on the other side of town.

Corn and tobacco grew on the river bottomland
as we watched the tugboats and barges
float logs and coal.
“Over the river and through the woods”
to Grandmother’s house we’d sing and go.
I never swam in the source
of water I drank,
but the river is in my blood.

I crossed the Mississippi,
saw the infinite sky, and knew
I’d never go back.

In Dakota, my man and I
built our home near the wide Missouri.
One summer day we canoed across
to an island. I waded out to water waist deep,
dropped to my back, rolled to my stomach,
let the current take me to a wilder place.

A shovelnose sturgeon swam in warm clear water.
A green heron glided into cottonwood leaves.
Rueing the day the people,
who named the river Mni Sose,
left this Paradise and followed a steamboat
to Greenwood Agency to survive upstream,
I waded back through minnows, against the current,
to join my mate.

A Canvasback floated by
as the river sang me
what it was and could be,
meandering down, down
to the sea.


Bird’s-eye Views

Storm cloud columns shade
houses and trees to the north.
Waiting for rain, the Vermillion
turns inky blue, slithering
to the wide Missouri. Through fields
of soybeans and corn it winds,
this serpentine river of yours and mine.

Rain turns the world gray for an hour.
Then the sky blooms lavender-pink.
Fields try on the pastel shades
of spring. Blue green are the trees
on a heron’s island home.
A beaver emerges floating a log
toward her expanding lodge.
We bask in cool air after the rain.

Now the river flows like the change
in light, unpredictable and perfect
under a deep blue sky. The golden
sun warms seeds, and corms awake.
The shapes of fields conform
to whims of water flowing beside them.
Trees topple, banks crumble, sand washes
from the bank to the center.
Beyond our control
the river shapes the shore.

Vultures gliding and circling,
we admire your flight.
Thank you for cleaning
our wild and fragile
river mosaic