Poetry of Kansas Here & Now, There & Then

I.Bio pic

The mother of my childhood

is propped up by the vacuum handle.

Her arms disappear at the ends

into filmy sink water.

She scrubs the kitchen floor the hard way,

sponge instead of mop. She’s tired.

 

She won’t stop

my father’s cancer from sweeping

through our tidy lives,

but she is armed

with spray bottles and paper towels.

 

II.

My father’s smoking

transformed the bathroom vent

from flute smooth to caked fireplace ash.

I pictured his lungs changing texture,

his heart no longer a red flame

but the doused black matchstick.

 

I tried hiding his cigarettes.

He always found them. Eventually,

I learned the joy my mother took in controlling

what could be. I polished the vent

with a pretty white cloth,

tenderly as she did her collection of tea spoons.

~ Melissa Fite Johnson

Melissa Fite Johnson teaches English at Pittsburg High School in Kansas. She’s had poetry published in magazines such as Sotto Voce, The Little Balkans Review, and Inscape Magazine, and in a Kansas Notable Book poetry collection To the Stars Through Difficulties. The Little Balkans Press will publish her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On, this year. Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.

Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. His fifth collection of poems, Waving Mustard in Surrender, was released in 2014 from New York Quarterly Books. Currently, he is teaching English in the Blue Valley School District and serves on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place.

Sixteen by Laura Lee Washburn

The tramping van made me woman enough.Photo on 2010-07-13 at 11.40 #3 (1)

Carburetor, clutch, hub, window guide, crank

pulley roused me before I knew the other words

of womanhood: snake, bend, flood stop, drop elbow

universal flapper, male and female fittings.

Coming back from the feed lot,

Dad stopped quick for the hippy van,

bread truck, whatever it had been.

We painted it primer black for a mural.

I tossed a mattress in back for a home

on the way to quest. Nothing turns out

how you plan. I should’ve learned body

repair, how to press the smash out of a door,

how to fire glass back to a pane, how loving

sometimes calls you out of your dreams,

how it follows you, even into the prairie grass

bent in November’s sullen winds.

~ Laura Lee Washburn

Laura Lee Washburn is the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and the author of This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize).  Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Cavalier Literary Couture, Carolina Quarterly, Ninth Letter, The Sun, Red Rock Review, and Valparaiso Review.  Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has also lived and worked in Arizona and in Missouri.  She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky.


Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. His fifth collection of poems, Waving Mustard in Surrender, was released in 2014 from New York Quarterly Books. Currently, he is teaching English in the Blue Valley School District and serves on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place.

photoAt tryouts the coach told me

that no left hander would

ever play catcher for him.

I just shrugged my shoulders

and walked back to sit

with the rest of the parents—

2 games in and 17 passed

balls later, he finally let

Cole put the gear on.

We were on our 4th pitcher.

My wife glanced at me

when she heard the click

of the pitch counter.

We were run-ruled in 4 innings.

I waited till everyone had left.

I showed the coach the counter.

It read 28, the number of pitches

in the dirt that game.

I made a O with my fingers and

told him that was how many went

to the backstop. I had a 12 year old

left hander with a fat lip, 2 deep

bruises, and a missing fingernail—

laughing at his dirty face

in the truck mirror.

Adam Jameson was born and raised in Southeast Kansas. He is a 1995 graduate of Pittsburg State University.  He currently works for Westar Energy. He has been reading and performing with White Buffalo for the past 25 years. The Little Balkans Press has recently published his first book of Poetry, #9 to Sallisaw. He lives in rural Pittsburg with his wife Meredith and son Cole.

Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. His fifth collection of poems, Waving Mustard in Surrender, was released in 2014 from New York Quarterly Books. Currently, he is teaching English in the Blue Valley School District and serves on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place.

to the stars through difficulty1622856_3847566204678_1093079812_n
we extinguish the piercing porch light
a new line begins: from the stars with ease
looking up we drink in the Milky Way
the distance from Goodland to home
is now more like a brief Sunday cruise

never was Orion’s Belt more bright
the hoot owl talks from the branches in the trees
and we listen for the nuance in what he has to say
there is no need nor cause for us to roam
I get Cassiopeia kisses from my midnight muse

~ William J. Karnowski

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.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This poem transcends time and space through its elements–and looking at the stars. It informs us we can be in any time and place to be moved as ‘we drink in the Milky Way.’ These guiding lights from the past inspire the poet to create her or his own bright place.”

05_10_1Flint Hills Runner

I.
All day wind
Sprints through

The grass and never
Gets out of breath.

II.
At night no one to play
Catch with or run

For a pass unless
You count the stars.

III.
At dawn it races
For the hilltop

Before sun leans across
That gray ribbon of creek.

IV.
Who can explain
Something so ancient,

That seeps from the rocks,
And rises from the earth?

V.
The old rancher
Stands at his barn

Watching for what
Chases that old boy.

[

Thomas Reynolds is an associate English professor at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, and has published poems in various print and online journals, including New Delta Review, Alabama Literary Review, Aethlon-The Journal of Sport Literature, The MacGuffin, Flint Hills Review, and Prairie Poetry. Woodley Press of Washburn University published his poetry collection Ghost Town Almanac in 2008. His chapbook The Kansas Hermit Poems was published in 2013.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This ecopoem connects for me place with nature with human. The space that happens while running is where this poem becomes as testimony for the Flint Hills. The questions of existence are here, as well as the cycle of life in the last stanza. Thank you for this poem, Thomas!”

1150860_10201817201337491_1439121457_nKansas Drought

Last week, Rain made puddles along the curb and the white chrysanthemums bent over

as though they wanted more to drink.

The air tasted like baking soda, fresh and gritty and the odors are absorbed,

absolving us for a brief moment from the unending guilt

which comes knowing just exactly what we’ve all done to our Mother.

Yesterday when I tried to dig up a spot to plant iris under the oak tree, the dirt was dried up and

dead, parched, heavy chunks, sort of like concrete. Frantic,

I dug deeper and was finally able to breathe when I found one small worm – a sign of life.

Rain came again this morning for a short visit and I wanted to offer her a homemade green

tomato pickle and a hot corn biscuit with apricot jam.

[

Iris Wilkinson lives in North Lawrence, just off the banks of the Kaw River. She enjoys leading a creative writing group for the women at the county jail and is thankful for her day job as a college professor at Washburn University.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This ecopoem really surprised me. It is truly of time and place, addressing via a meditation a subtle crisis on both personal and global levels ‘from the unending guilt / which comes knowing just exactly what we’ve all done to our Mother.’ One can only do what one can do from the signs found in nature–and in poems–’I found one small worm – a sign of life.’ I am still captured by its call for my own attention to life.”

1478989_10151821111791994_1022361121_nOde to Washing Dishes

First, make sure your sink is under a window.
Look outside while you fill the basin. If daytime,
don’t scrutinize your lawn. Do laugh
at quarreling birds or your own yawning dog.
If night, be kind to your reflection.
Appreciate your long arms that disappear
at the wrists and the wrinkles at your mouth.

Don’t think of this task as another in a hundred.
It is the reward when those are done,
the chocolate mousse after steamed vegetables.
If the hot water and bubbles,
the lavender smell, the wine glass
to your left and soft terrycloth
against your bare shoulder are not a comfort
in this late hour, then you are doing it all wrong.

[

Melissa Fite Johnson teaches English at Pittsburg High School in Kansas. She’s had poetry published in magazines such as Sotto Voce, The Little Balkans Review, and Inscape Magazine, and in a Kansas Notable Book poetry collection To the Stars Through Difficulties. The Little Balkans Press will publish her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On, this year. Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.

chosen by Dennis Etzel Jr.

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers was released by ELJ Publications in 2013, and his work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar and Speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA of Topeka and Midland Hospice. His website is http://www.dennisetzeljr.com.

Dennis says, “This poem is brilliant, not just for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary, but does so in the instructional “how to” tone. This says to enjoy one’s self in place and time, to not ‘think of this task as another in a hundred.’ This poem is helpful in a time of need.”

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