Poetry of Kansas Here & Now, There & Then

There is nothing west10885210_10203995076012065_23950373450041338_n

of Emporia, travelers in a hurry

will say, unable to savor

 

how emptiness feeds

the eyes. All the yellows and browns

and the thousand greens

 

of emptiness have chosen

to shake out their blankets here,

spread them across the bone-

 

white rock of these hills. Nothing

but cattle here, patient souls soft

in their eyes. Tall grass for the wind

 

to draw its bow along, gently

or harshly, obeying the whims of the sky.

Under the weight of butterflies,

 

coneflowers dip and nod

like nobility. In the silence

of distance, a drover,

 

straight in his saddle,

charts the horizon, tallies

the riches of nothing.

~ Pat Daneman

Pat Daneman has lived in Lenexa, Kansas since 1986. Recent work appears in The Moon City Review, I-70 Review, Bellevue Poetry Review, and The Comstock Review. Her chapbook, Where the World Begins, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. She is poetry co-editor of Kansas City Voices magazine.

Melissa Fite Johnson, a high school English teacher, received her Master’s in English literature from Pittsburg State University in Kansas.  Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including I-70 Review, The Little Balkans Review, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, Inscape Magazine, Cave Region Review, The Invisible Bear, HomeWords: A Project of the Kansas Poet Laureate, Kansas Time + Place, Broadsided Press: 2014 Haiku Year in Review, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices. In 2015, Little Balkans Press published her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.  (www.melissafitejohnson.com)

Melissa says, “I’ve long felt that Kansas has a quiet beauty that too often goes unappreciated. This poem captures it perfectly—‘how emptiness feeds the eyes,’ all that emptiness shaking out its blanket here. The image of wind drawing its bow along tall grass is exquisite, and I know just what Daneman means. How often I’ve driven past a field of ‘nothing’ and had to suck in my breath in wonder. I love this poem.”

A goldenrod sun forces throughMatthew Manning Photo

a humid Kansas sky. A child plays

with cheap snapping fireworks.

Gravel, silver fulminate,

and his sense of power are wrapped

in cigarette paper shaped like teardrops.

One at a time, he throws and pops them.

 

His older brother looks down from a toolbox

on the bed of his father’s truck. He says nothing.

He offers only his eyes to watch,

and nods of encouragement.

The cement street is covered in wrinkles;

its gutters are cluttered with wrappers.

 

The boy’s front yard looks like a garage sale

of trash and toys: Empty Marlboro

cases, burnt Hot Wheels cars,

and bruised dog toys. Their dog watches

the boy throwing snappers. The boy

ignores the dog’s bark and warning.

~ Matthew David Manning

Matthew David Manning is a poet from Pittsburg, Kansas where he teaches at Pittsburg State University in the Intensive English Program. Matthew holds degrees in creative writing from Arizona State University and Pittsburg State University. Matthew is passionate about educating non-native English speakers about poetry, and recently returned from spending two years in Suzhou, China. (www.mattwritenow.com)

Melissa Fite Johnson, a high school English teacher, received her Master’s in English literature from Pittsburg State University in Kansas.  Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including I-70 Review, The Little Balkans Review, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, Inscape Magazine, Cave Region Review, The Invisible Bear, HomeWords: A Project of the Kansas Poet Laureate, Kansas Time + Place, Broadsided Press: 2014 Haiku Year in Review, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices. In 2015, Little Balkans Press published her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.  (www.melissafitejohnson.com)

Melissa says, “I love the mystery in this poem. I was struck mostly by the sweetness of the older brother—how rare, this show of unwavering support for a little sibling, no criticisms or jabs—but then the poem ends with burnt and bruised toys and on the dog’s warning, which the boy ignores. The ending left me with an uneasy feeling, like there was more to this story than we’re allowed to see. I want more—I want a whole series of poems about this family.”

On the hottest day of a Salina summer,Chenoweth, Sarah

when even blessed grapes feel foul

and the sun sears the skins

of all living things,

I sit shaded under awning and toast the heat

which has created an accord with my body.

 

Sweet Smoky Hill sweat begins to form on,

but does not evaporate from,

my loosely crossed legs

as I melt into stasis,

on this shaded hill, with the

leafless Western plain.

 

I imagine the sweat soaking through my cotton dress,

staining it purple in robust, floral patterns.

I imagine it reversing its course,

like a river after drought,

reabsorbing itself back into my thighs

tracking through my stomach, up my esophagus,

and spilling out across my lips—

these tears, aromatic and sweet against the salt in my glands.

~ Sarah Chenoweth

Sarah Chenoweth is a graduate of both the English and Communication M.A. programs at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, and has been published in PSU’s Cow Creek Review. She has achieved little else thus far; happy to focus on Being, rather than Doing.

Melissa Fite Johnson, a high school English teacher, received her Master’s in English literature from Pittsburg State University in Kansas.  Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including I-70 Review, The Little Balkans Review, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, Inscape Magazine, Cave Region Review, The Invisible Bear, HomeWords: A Project of the Kansas Poet Laureate, Kansas Time + Place, Broadsided Press: 2014 Haiku Year in Review, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices. In 2015, Little Balkans Press published her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.  (www.melissafitejohnson.com)

Melissa says, “I love ‘moment’ poems, and this one is especially lovely. Instead of the speaker’s mind wandering to an expected topic (a loved one, a sick dog), she stays perfectly in the present. I am no good at meditation, but I feel like that ending is trying to teach me how it’s done.”

H Mydosh Headshot 2014My grandmother and her neighbor, Madonna Rhule, widow, would play Parcheesi three afternoons a week the summer I turned twelve in the Iowa heat, with over-dyed ivory markers that rattled like loose teeth. I would gnaw on the edge of a brick of frozen strawberries, cardboard packaging peeled off, discarded, heavy syrup congealing on the webbing between my pudgy fingers. Madonna and her dead husband, Archie, once had a son, they’d told me, who died the first day they’d opened the community pool in Centerville. There’d been a crowd, and they hadn’t found his body until they closed the gates for the day.

~ Heather Mydosh

Heather Mydosh is a transplant to Independence, Kansas where she teaches composition and literature at Independence Community College. She recently was awarded first place for poetry in the Kansas Voices contest for her poem “Strawberry Blood.” She holds her Masters of Literature from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland in Comparative Literature and Thought, where she spent countless nights immersed in dusty texts. Current interests include the Pleistocene extinction of North American mega fauna, the cultivation of peonies, vintage British automobiles, and pre-prohibition cocktails.

Melissa Fite Johnson, a high school English teacher, received her Master’s in English literature from Pittsburg State University in Kansas.  Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including I-70 Review, The Little Balkans Review, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, Inscape Magazine, Cave Region Review, The Invisible Bear, HomeWords: A Project of the Kansas Poet Laureate, Kansas Time + Place, Broadsided Press: 2014 Haiku Year in Review, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices. In 2015, Little Balkans Press published her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.  (www.melissafitejohnson.com)

Melissa says, “What I love about this prose poem is that it starts out reminding me what it felt like to be nearly a teenager—long, hot afternoons with relatives in lieu of going out with friends or a boyfriend—and then there’s this gut punch of a surprise ending. I love Mydosh’s decision not to let the speaker react to Madonna’s story. It left me with the impression that this twelve-year-old had no idea what to say to comfort this woman, which struck me as so authentic.”

Julieramon.jpgI think it every time I see you
with paper and crayon in hand

As you snap a section of forest green
in your mouth, I wonder if the flavor

matches the color. I question
if it would forever be a part of you

and turn the specks in your eyes
the color of abandoned copper train cars

under the sun. Somehow you always
know what to say without saying a word.

You point to the sky and trace stars
with the tips of your fingers.

~ Julie Ramon

Julie Ramon is an English instructor, specializing in English as a second language, at Pittsburg State University in Kansas. She graduated with an M.F.A from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. Her poems “Making Tamales” and “Making Tortillas” were recently published in the literary food magazine, Graze. She enjoys baking and selling cakes from home on weekends. She lives in Joplin, Missouri with her husband and son.

Melissa Fite Johnson, a high school English teacher, received her Master’s in English literature from Pittsburg State University in Kansas.  Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including I-70 Review, The Little Balkans Review, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, Inscape Magazine, Cave Region Review, The Invisible Bear, HomeWords: A Project of the Kansas Poet Laureate, Kansas Time + Place, Broadsided Press: 2014 Haiku Year in Review, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices. In 2015, Little Balkans Press published her first book of poetry, While the Kettle’s On Melissa and her husband, Marc, live in Pittsburg with their dog and several chickens.  (www.melissafitejohnson.com)

Melissa says, “I’m not a mother, but this poem makes me marvel at the private world a parent and child share. I especially love the suggestion that this swallowed crayon bit is now forever a part of the child, and to me this hints at a hope that m

Heavy heat of the day escapes

on stiff winds across the lake.

Wish-laden catfish lines, like sirens,

draw me away from campfire,

wine, and your whispers.

 

You stand ashore alone,

lantern held high as I push off.

While rowing, you fade

to a lighthouse on a bleak coast.

 

My flashlight finally finds

a tenuous streak of limp line.

Grasping for dreams,

line trembles, tightens

and the lake is fighting back,

bouncing the bow of the boat,

spraying my face with froth.

Dark, churning depths stretch

line toward nightmare.

 

Until the catfish is netted.

A wet grin crosses my face

as I remember your light

beckoning my return.

~ Kelly W. Johnston

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, Sport Literate, 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. His work has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.

A creek flows through me,

Down my arms & right

Out my muddy, wet

Fingertips…

Pulsing warm as blood,

Like the memory of song.

I proclaim my firm premise:

Every child, at some point in youth,

Should befriend or be

Befriended by

A creek.

My own former playmate

Still runs in Kansas; shallow,

Stoney & slow…

It curved playfully

Behind the pink-sided rental

Where we lived when I was but

5 years old.

It was there that I first studied

Aquaculture with diligent

Intensity & full

Wonder.

Learning habitats

Of crawdads, turtles & snails;

Observing lifecycles

Of frogs & toads

…from egg to tadpole

To gone…

The creek was alive.

Moss green covered stones

Sprinkled with small freshwater shellfish,

Stirred by outstretched strider bugs

& darting dragonflies.

Brilliant sun flashed

Backs from countless minnows,

Brushed bare toes, half sunk

In rich, slimy mud.

The creek called to me daily,

& I could not resist.

This creek,

Which once curved

My childhood afternoons,

Still remains in my

Bloodstream.

Now, my own daughters

Need a creek to live

Inside them

As friend & teacher

& a venue for few innocent

Crimes,

Offering

Them permission to explore

A world I can no longer

Easy enter,

& time to experience

Innocence which I can now

Scarcely envision.

They need a creek:

Flowing through their minds,

Down their arms & right

Out their muddy, wet

Fingertips.

~ Elizabeth Perdomo

Elizabeth Perdomo has lived and written in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas these past fourteen years, moving to the region from the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. Born in Kansas, and raised both there and in Colorado, she has written poetry works since a young teen. Perdomo also lived in the Southeastern USA for a number of years. Her written pieces reflects on local place and culture, ecology and nature, traditions, spirituality and much more.

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, Sport Literate, 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. His work has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.

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