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.


One thought on “33. Kansas Freaks

  1. An interesting and worthy commentary on our state and its values. Superb choice for the title.

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