I think Yonder, with its text by Tony Johnston and its illustrations by Lloyd Bloom, may have been my first book of poetry, or at least the first book of poetry I memorized. It is a picture book and a poem, a tender exploration of the passage of time and space, always over yonder. I read it, this sixth day of the 2021 Sealey Challenge, because I needed an old friend, and it was there for me.
Truly Yonder has been there for me nearly all my life: it was published not so long after I was born. My copy, now, is yellowed and fraying, pages slipping their binding, but the words are just as true as they were when my mother must have read it to me first, before I was quite two years old. I’m pretty sure this book is to blame for my fondness for the word yonder.
Yonder is one of those examples of a book in which the pictures and the words are pretty much in perfect alignment: we watch the trees grow in Bloom’s illustrations as Johnston’s text tells us they grow, and we know time is passing before we’ve read a word because there are the trees over yonder, and there are the red-headed rugrats, bigger here than they were before.
The first page, with its beautiful illustrations of farm country, sets the tone for the rest of the book: “Yonder is the farmer on a jet back horse. / Yonder are the hills that roll forever. / Yonder is the river that runs to sea. / Yonder. Way over yonder.” Now, it turns out that I quite dislike hills that roll forever—I always feel like I’m closed in, trapped, and somebody’s coming to get me, because I’m a flatlander I am—but my God what a beautiful image.
Yonder has its moments of silliness—all that red hair among the descendants!—and, this time around, I had moments of wondering about where it was set, and how much of a force coloniality was, in this world we see in Bloom’s paintings and in Johnston’s words. But it is a beautiful book, beautifully told: a gentle introduction to the cyclical nature of life, but one that is never frightening. (I did cry at the end this time, but I think that was more where I am right now than anything.)
Books from our childhoods don’t always hold up, and, to be sure, I re-read Yonder with postcolonial theory at my back, wondering with what colonialities of power the farmer on his jet-black horse was reforming the land. But, at the same time, it remains a stunning book, a tender exploration of the passage of time, a reminder of the magic just over yonder.