Poetry of Kansas Here & Now, There & Then

143. breaking the plains

it’s not the tractor in the fog,

the faint percussion in the middle ear, muted and dispersed,

popping johnny’s progeny, john deere’s plowbeam, soil-polished plowshare,

twelvebottom moldboard suited to the plains.

soothing reassurance, stitching air and land, an earthy first fragrance

permeates, loess and loam, gasoline, oiled gunny, sweat and rain.

it’s not the moiled light that intervenes, gleams and saturates

the steel, paint and plastic, the wet windshield glass of toyota, audi,

volvo, suburu, chevy and ford parked along the right of way,

the barbed wire fence row of the old oregon trail, where the heavy wagon box

clatters and twists, the loaded axletree and iron-wrapped wheel,

canvas canopies slap, strain and stutter, travel,

jangled chain over ruts, cattle, an ox, a spotted hog in tow.

it’s not the gravel road that cuts north along the edge across the draw,

the dormant switchgrass and wild rye that grow in the ditch, crinoidal

limestone shards, mollusk matrices, the sunflower stalks

that ravel, rattle and blow, the indifferent bois d’arc hedge

that spreads tangled offspring into the field.

it’s not phlox, sand dropseed, prairie gourd, goldenrod,

mead’s milkweed, the fringed orchid, purple clover, queen anne’s lace,

squirreltail, needle-leaf sedge, pussy toe, redtop and daisy fleabane.

it’s not the distant talkers, the nikon shutter, discussion,

testimony, witness and the awe. it’s not john brown, jim lane, quantrill,

speculators, sod busters, border ruffians, jayhawkers,

molasses lappers, exodusters, clod hoppers, not

buffalo, fox, antelope, puma, prairie dog,

mastodon, teleoceras and sabertooth cat.

it’s not the kaw.

it’s the phantom self-consciously stripping bluestem spikelets to carry home,

the specter in the mirror, the pucker and fold

around the wary green eyes, the well-fed flesh year round, kumquat,

cantaloupe, kohlrabi, artichoke, brown rice, tofu, lox,

pork chop, bacon, leeks, kale and beans.

the face, the curls, the nod, the wistful grin, the deprecatory frown,

protruding ears, the yellow teeth, dull skin growing taut

about the pale forehead, the cheeks and jaw, the chin, the closed skull bones

underneath. frail, transitory. exposed furrow ribs. change.

shape-shifting, form-folding, glacial till, erratic stones,

orogeny, alluvial deposits eroded and washed,

uplift, thrust and fall, settle and fill.

it’s you, caught up in this inexorable turning.

not the landscape will not survive, the ocean gone, but you

evolving to the dust that swirls from shears and scatters

in the obscure morning mist.

you drifter in the prairie flux, desperate seizer

of an imaginal razor now.

let loose. you turn the sod.

it’s you who drive the plow.

– Philip Kimball

– first published in Phoenix Papers. Penthe Publishing Co. Lawrence. 1993.

Comments on: "143. breaking the plains" (1)

  1. Rick Nichols said:

    As I read it, it’s a worthy elaboration on the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” theme.

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