Poetry of Kansas Here & Now, There & Then

Posts tagged ‘Walter Bargen’

143. To the Stars Through Difficulties: Walter Bargen

A distant crow cracks the dry sky’s
blue canopy as it flies to the next ridge.
The rustle of oak leaves catching a breeze
settle back into the silence of heat.
An insect stutters past as if knowing
of a cooler destination. It’s the briefest reprieve
from drought,  this coming together,
a brush of mist as fingertips alight,
light as the lightest rain the touch of lips,
and they moisten each other.

– Walter Bargen

116. Abject Impermanence in Kansas

─for Jamie D’Agostino

It wasn’t so long ago

Then it was longer than we thought.

Really it was a step or two beyond thinking.

The edge is out there somewhere.

The photograph I’m holding proves it.

Here’s another friend who has fallen into a frame

And nowhere else.

In the closet, there’s a shoebox holding a wallet-sized

Grand Canyon and the largest ball of string in Kansas.

Immutability was not a dream than it was.

Now we have nothing and don’t care either.

Ontologically rich, metaphysically poor,

The non-substance of any living.

Some people die with their boots on, not making it

out of the trenches or even a few feet farther.

Our boots are only muddy.

Anyone can track us down.

We reinvent desertion and call it flight

only to be arrested and fall too easily from the sky.

Be careful which way you point that gun.

We want to see your license for extinction.

Twigs snap, snap again.

Now we’re running fast.

The arrhythmia of rumors causes us to stop

And catch a breath.

The canary long ago dead in the deep tunnels

Of our visions.  No answer was ever forthcoming.

When the stage was finally reached

No one arrived to play the part.

The horizon pulled back. Curtains in flames.

Cowboys gasp in dust behind cattle

Headed for Abilene.

The Flint Hills napped into gravel.

Who will be next to wake?

– Walter Bargen

Walter Bargen has published thirteen books of poetry and two chapbooks. The latest are: The Feast, BkMk Press-UMKC, 2004, winner of the 2005 William Rockhill Nelson Award; Remedies for Vertigo (2006) from WordTech Communications; West of West from Timberline and Theban Traffic (2008) WordTech Communications. In 2009, BkMk Press-UMKC published Days Like This Are Necessary:  New & Selected Poems. He was appointed to be the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009). He’s one of the poets reading at the Lawrence Arts Center today and participating in the conference as part of Poet Laureati: A Convergence of Poets Laureate.

33. Kansas Freaks

Once in awhile a touch like the above.

–Joseph Cornell

If I have to remember something about 1966, let it be Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention,

their first record release, Freak Out.  It was Christmas vacation and looking for something to set me apart

from the dull Midwest, I bought the album for its psychedelic neon cover before I’d heard the word psychedelic.

My favorite line, sung longingly, “With hair growing out every hole in me,” as if their one wild moment

had already fallen to the barbershop floor.  Perhaps they were right, thirty years later, the band broken-up,

Frank dead of prostate cancer, my turntable up in a puff of smoke, signaling the century’s end,

no more listening to scratchy vinyl.

In “Help, I’m a Rock,” Frank always a little grandiose and self mocking, snubbed the sentimental

Simon & Garfunkel “I Am a Rock.”

In falsetto he sings, “It can’t happen here.”  Of course it could, and it was, and if it wasn’t,

where then might it happen,

in every hair follicle in Kansas, teasing me to join in as I laid on the floor between hi-fi speakers.

Thirty years later, at a luncheon held in juvenile detention, I’m losing interest, it’s not happening here.

I unfold a newspaper laid on a chair, read that the state of Kansas, defined by geography not song,

reviewed all bronze roadside historical plaques. State officials decided to remove the story of “The Bloody Benders,”

not because on the high prairie a mile northwest of the Mounds and thirteen miles from the town

of Parsons where the Bender family built a one room house in 1871, where travelers sat for a meal,

they were bludgeoned, robbed, and shoved through a trap door in the floor.  Eleven bodies, skulls crushed, unearthed in 1873.

It’s not the horrific, not the festering frontier, but Kate, the Bender daughter, the “self-proclaimed healer

and spiritualist,”

who contacted dead relatives for the locals, who lured men “with a tigerish grace,” this “voluptuous girl”

is officially offensive.  Death can only be flat and lonely as Kansas.  This life of heat, humidity, wheat, the official one.

The dead left to God, mass murder to a bronzed plaque.  And Frank sings on remastered CD’s, “Kansas, Kansas, it can’t happen here.”

– Walter Bargen

Walter Bargen has published thirteen books of poetry and two chapbooks. The latest are: The Feast, BkMk Press-UMKC, 2004, winner of the 2005 William Rockhill Nelson Award; Remedies for Vertigo (2006) from WordTech Communications; West of West from Timberline and Theban Traffic (2008) WordTech Communications. In 2009, BkMk Press-UMKC published Days Like This Are Necessary:  New & Selected Poems. He was appointed to be the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009). He’s one of the poets reading at the Lawrence Arts Center today and participating in the conference as part of Poet Laureati: A Convergence of Poets Laureate.

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