Flat on my back in switchgrass, I sing ‘O Give Me a Home’ to the thousand-mile wind. Sometimes when I sing I even love my father. I feel how his braced leg fails him on any grassy slope. I see his withered right ankle, pale upon the good one, as he scoots along the floor to the bathroom—“out of my way!”—his privacy lost to loose BVDs and desperation. I sing of the sweet land where fathers died for liberty, and I love him.
I love my mother when I sing of that swan like a maid in a heavenly dream. I sing our Kansas anthem and in those few lines I float with her, calm and protected. I forget my ugly duckliness, and I love her.
I love that flat, blue song, about home in an unclouded heaven, encouraged by words. A buffalo’d heaven with room to roam and play—especially deer, in particular antelope. No barren mesas or lost canyons, just the thick, shivering hide of horned and feathered grain, of cumulic Kansas.
Lying in the fields beyond Eby Street I sing full throat until my heart bursts for endless blue sky, endless yellow prairie—for endless itself, the best of all possible endings. A dreamy-head in eight-foot grain, my hands grip pale roots, talon’d deep in black earth.
“Close your eyes, boys and girls, form your notes, listen to the words,” teacher says, and alone under the firmament I sing the cowboy songs, of lost boys and fallen girls, tragic love and lonely hope, paltry hate and dumb death. Too young and wild for salvation, Nana’s church word, too wise to know better—and I love their six-gun hearts.
Foundering to the grave, mama in their pockets, they tear full chisel across my plain horizon, rip-snorters and gallivants, forsaken darlins’ all. When the sad stanza comes ‘round and the red rose blooms—over an ill look, a wrong card, a bad turn—I crybaby their beautiful words. Safe and unseen in blue and green I weep for cut-and-come-again chirks fine as cream gravy, who freeze in their line camps, undiscovered until spring. Tired riders fetched up on forgotten trails, who send their dust to heaven. Ghosts who pick violets in cottonwood draws.
I try to be good, to mend my ways and be a light in His eye. I read old poems and think: if I but unlock those magic phrases! The flowery, pearl-handled syllables, the long-gone, difficult words in western song-stories we sing in bright, orderly classrooms. With them redemption, Nana’s church-word, is possible. I’ll avoid a bad end and God’s great goodness will redeem me. Forgiveness hides in treasure words—in the must of the barn, the urgency of foals, the glamour of honest sweat, the sparkling diamonds on wheat, corn, rye and sorghum, after the rain.
With hard work and good words I might rise. Be like glass to God.
But I read my father, too, his secret language of mouth, step, and arm. Of pause and tighten, throat sound and chopped cough. Most days his mood is my truest Bible and I know what I am, will always be: a curse, a crime, a spill upon his clean shop floor. The boy Mom had to rape him for, she always says. An unreliable fool who’ll leave no trace, end up a card forgotten in an apron pocket. I know, the songs tell me: after a time all pockets are lost.
At Nana’s I study the picture of her uncle, gone to old Mexico to hide and die. His fancy vest and two-gun rig, and how his eye chases hope but his mouth is wicked. A bad boy who didn’t deserve redemption, Nana’s church-word.
My throat sore from singing, I rise and sway but want to stay, to ease slow into the great, grassy pond of Kansas. I brush off for the ride back to the house.
Pump-pump, push-push—a bump over the rough edge and I leave the fields. On Grandview doors and windows stand watch on the lovely frontier, reflect the zazz of late summer meadows, the hovering midge clouds illuminated by sol invictus. I wheel slow past warm orange windows of lucky boys and girls, lit from within. I picture hearth fires built with slow hands, banked and fed with tender restraint. Take me in, as I reach as to grab an ember for my pocket, to carry with me where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free, the breezes so balmy and light, where a thousand mile wind stirs and rattles but never breaks my buckaroo heart. I steer one-handed, heat in my close-held fist.
At the final turn I stop, straddle my cross-bar. I open my empty hand, hold it up to the last of the light. Heat rises, disappears.
Home is just pretend. A place where everyone says please and thank you, and they knock before entering—where’s that? where the only slaps are screen doors, as heat retreats and light gets small, where it takes all evening to finish saying hey? where love gathers for loud breakfasts, galleon lunches, and linger-long, lamp-lit dinners on mis-matched grandma-china? where none are left hungry? where front-porch fiddles reel under the midnight moon, scratch out lullabies for old-timers and sleepyhead babes? where children are safe from calloused hands? where is that dreamland door?
Time to forget best-beloved poems, to put away purloined phrases and secret syllables, my Whitman words and Sandburg songs. To quiet my over-active imagination.
“What’s he going on about? I never know what he’ll say next…”
“Slow down, buster, talk reg’lar…”
“Get over here, I’ll make you smart, mister…”
I turn my handles, stand, and push-push, empty eyes on black tires.
We buried him there on the lone prairie
For they marked the spot where his bones were lain
Fling a handful of roses o’er his grave
Excerpt, "Near Goodland"
Copyright 2016 Greg Correll All rights Reserved