Poetry of Kansas Here & Now, There & Then

Nachtmusik by Stephen Meats

StephenCrickets and tree frogs

Choir the starlit yard.

Low in the east

a half-moon, opaque

almost as an egg yolk,

backlights the silhouettes of trees

like semiquavers in the score

of the Bach requiem

when a darker shadow

whispering into the branches

of a pin oak drops a pall of silence

into which barred owl chants―

Who dies for me?

Who mourns for the small?

―and every living thing

within sound of the call

is still and alone

with the beat of its heart.

But then the shadow lifts

and mockingbird begins

once more to improvise its

three phrase melody,

and the crickets and tree frogs

again relax their anthems

into the sacred dark.

~ Stephen Meats

Stephen Meats, recently retired from teaching and administration at Pittsburg State University, is the author of a mixed genre collection of poems and stories, Dark Dove Descending and Other Parables (Mammoth Publications 2013), and a book of poems, Looking for the Pale Eage (originally published, 1993; second expanded edition, Mammoth 2014). He has been poetry editor of The Midwest Quarterly since 1985.

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

bio photo 2The boomers return to the roadhouse

to dance to the Beatles. They gyrate through

“Twist and Shout” and “Day Tripper.”

Few manage the floor for more than two

or three songs. They return to their canned beer,

flushed, sucking air like tread-millers

after a cardiac exam. There are moments

in the blue neon when they glimpse each other again,

sweating to an electric guitar, the thump

of the Ludwig, the band superimposed

against a newsreel of missiles—rising

like poems from submarines.

These were the children, hidden below

school desks, arms folded above their heads

in a looping number 9. They dance

hard tonight to the old songs, the highway

through the bean fields winding homeward

between “Let It Be” and “Imagine.”

~ Al Ortolani

Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. He has four books of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press at Washburn University, Wren’s House, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas, and Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead from Aldrich Press in Torrance, California. His fifth book, Waving Mustard in Surrender, will be released by New York Quarterly Books later in 2014. He is on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place and is an editor with The Little Balkans Review.

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

McCallum headshot photoI’m lying awake in this life and listening
to sound tell me something beyond
my bedroom window, three flights high.

It’s four in the morning & tree frogs layer
their song in the backyard, along
with crickets and cicadas. This time

of year, something frantic beats
inside of all of us. So much happens
that we don’t really understand. The bedroom
ceiling fan speeds up with a pull of its cord.
The old refrigerator is ready to die but still
insists on whining to the best of its slow
and slightly-chilled ability.

A few minutes ago, I accidentally
toppled a tower of books onto the wooden floor
from their place on the windowsill, in hopes
of glimpsing the meteor shower
everyone spoke of yesterday.

But I saw bats instead. They slid,
silent through the air the way that wisps
of black paper will rise from a fire, curling
like sheets of concert music into shadow,
that the maestro has no further use for.

And as I slide back into bed I hear them
orchestrate their high-pitched chatter, coming,
I figure now, up-side down from the gaps
between the walls of this apartment.

Does it matter, when I moved in here a year ago,
I thought that was the sound of birds,
building a nest on the roof?

~ Ramona McCallum

McCallum is the author of the poetry collection Still Life with Dirty Dishes (2013, Woodey Press) and is in the second year of her MFA studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she is a Durwood Poetry Fellow. Ramona and her husband Brian McCallum, a ceramic sculptor, and their six children are currently founding a nonprofit organization called PowerHouse Universe whose mission is to recognize and encourage the creative abilities of youth by providing opportunities for positive self-expression in the literary, visual and performance arts.

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

Ryberg photo9:17 in the morning,

naked, drunk and bleeding

like Martin Sheen in that scene

from “Apocalypse Now”

(“Saigon… shit, still in Saigon”),

one eye still pasted shut from sleep,

front and back doors wide open,

every light in the house on,

half-eaten pizza from somewhere

I’ve never even heard of,

three-quarter drained handle of rum,

cocaine contrails, twenty-dollar bill

and someone’s Costco card

in full view on the kitchen counter

next to a Valentine’s card from my mother,

David Allen Coe’s “Long Haired Red Neck”

skipping, loud, on the turn-table

for who knows

how long.

~ Jason Ryberg

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

Song I Dreamed by Leah Sewell

Leah SewellThe week before I lost my way of life

The week when I realized I’d lost you

There was a week I listened only to

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals broken

croons aching out my wide open

car windows in moldy blue night

Slipping moon of when I had you

Morning’s nothing but an empty bag

A bed alive with fleas

Deadline and limp flag

Song like a dream like a dream

~ Leah Sewell

Leah Sewell is an assistant editor at Coconut Poetry, an MFA graduate of the University of Nebraska, and a book designer, poet, and mother. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Midwestern Gothic, Weave Magazine and burntdistrict. Her chapbook, Birth in Storm, was the winner of the 2012 ELJ Publications Chapbook Competition.

Guest editor: Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State and co-edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, also a Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, and Spider Face: stories. He writes, “For my month, I searched for poems that meditate on “time” in its many musical nuances, such as in times a tune jogged your memory, times the music seemed to transport you in time, times you patted your foot or danced to the music’s groove (time), times the music jump-started your heart (internal time), OR meditations on musical elements (such as 4/4 time vs. 6/8 time OR swung vs. straight, rock 2+4 time).”

 

Tyler Sheldon PhotoIf you’re not impressed at first,
Don’t sweat it overly much.
It’s often said that our best scenery is nowhere
Near the ground.

Start slow. No one’ll blame you.
Go drag Main
In a rusted-out car at 2 AM.
Eat fish sandwiches from their soggy wrappers
With no-good tartar sauce;
Throw clove cigarette butts into the street.

Walk our dirt roads because you can;
Search for ruby slippers
Because outsiders say you’ll find them here.
Take in the wagon-wheel mailboxes,
The darkly inviting salt mines.

Throw your lines into the air.
Fish kites and vultures
From a deeply important, endless sky.


Bio: Tyler Sheldon is the Press Manager for Flint Hills Review, and is a Creative Writing student at Emporia State University. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Tulgey Wood, Quivira, Periphery, Thorny Locust, eleven to seven, I-70 Review, Coal City Review, The Dos Passos Review, and 150 Kansas Poems, and is also featured in the anthology To The Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices (a 2012 Kansas Notable Book). Sheldon’s poetry has been nominated for the AWP Intro Journals Award, and has been featured on Kansas Public Radio.

- August Guest Editor: William J. Karnowski is the author of seven books of poetry; Pushing the Chain, The Hills of Laclede, Painting the Train, Hardtails and Highways, Catching the Rain, Dispensation, and The Sodhouse Green. He has poetry published in Kansas Voices, The Midwest Quarterly, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, Kansas Author Club Yearbooks and multiple website locations. Karnowski is the current State President of Kansas Authors Club.

 

DianePalkaShe rock and rolls through life in a dusty
fuel-efficient car through prairie grass,
cows, wheat, corn, sunflowers.
The naive turtle laughs at prairie tornados
that rock and roll her world.
The doo-wop of her life filled with violin lightning
and piano thunder, now replaced by staccato
of withered leaves that now crush underfoot
scatter in bitter winds.
Her world much older now, yet she feels the same.
Rocking must be more than just a chair.
Care and giver, once two words never used together
drag her into the blue end – cold and deep.
Unable to whirl in the country winds that bound from field
to field, she can’t find sunflowers for all the blue
she struggles to surface
stay afloat.
In her newfound wisdom as a tortoise
she carries them on her back to shelter them.
She plods along the dusty gravel roads in her tiny car
does what she can, not what she wants.
Give her violins, pianos, give her rock and roll
give her doo-wop, let her rock around prairie tornadoes
instead of rocking in a chair
because there isn’t much time left
for sunflowers, thunder or lightning.

Diane Palka is a resident in rural Overbrook. She worked as a secretary/bookkeeper in Lawrence and Kansas City. Diane became interested in poetry as an adult. Now retired, she has turned her attention to writing poetry. She enjoys writing free verse and Japanese forms of poetry, specifically, haiku, senryu, haibun.

- August Guest Editor: William J. Karnowski is the author of seven books of poetry; Pushing the Chain, The Hills of Laclede, Painting the Train, Hardtails and Highways, Catching the Rain, Dispensation, and The Sodhouse Green. He has poetry published in Kansas Voices, The Midwest Quarterly, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, Kansas Author Club Yearbooks and multiple website locations. Karnowski is the current State President of Kansas Authors Club.

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