O Bury Me Not
Flat on my back in switchgrass, I sang ‘O Give Me a Home’ to the thousand-mile wind. Sometimes when I sang I even loved my father. Felt how his braced leg failed him on any grassy slope. Saw his withered right ankle, pale upon the good one, as he scooted along the floor to the bathroom—“out of my way!”—his privacy lost to desperation and loose BVDs. I sang of the sweet land where fathers died for liberty, and I loved him.
I loved my mother as I sang of that swan like a maid in a heavenly dream. Sang our Kansas anthem and floated with her, calm and protected. Forgot my ugly duckliness, and I loved her.
I loved that flat, blue song, about home in a perfect, 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, below cumulic Kansas.
Lying in fields beyond Eby Street I sang full throat until my heart burst 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 gripped pale roots, talon’d deep in black earth.
“Close your eyes, boys and girls, form your notes, listen to the words,” teacher would say, and alone under the firmament I sang the western songs of lost boys and fallen girls, tragic love and lonely hope, paltry hate and dumb death—too young and wild for salvation, too clever to know better—and I loved their six-gun hearts.
Foundering to the grave, mama in their pockets, they tore full chisel across my plain horizon, rip-snorters and gallivants, forsaken darlins’ all. When the sad stanza came ‘round and the red rose blooms—over an ill look, a wrong card, a bad turn—I crybaby’d their beautiful words. Safe and unseen in blue and green I wept for cut-and-come-again chirks fine as cream gravy, frozen in line camps, undiscovered until spring. For tired riders fetched up on forgotten trails, who sent their dust to heaven. For ghosts who pick violets in cottonwood draws.
I tried to be good, to mend my ways and be a light in His eye. Read the old poems and thought: if I but unlock those magic phrases! The flowery, pearl-handled syllables, the long-gone, difficult words in western song-stories we sang in our bright, orderly classrooms. Forgiveness hid 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, to be like glass to God.
But I read my father, too, his secret language of mouth, step, and arm. His pause and tighten, throat sound and chopped cough. Most days his mood was my truest Bible and I knew what I was, would always be: a curse, a crime, a spill upon his clean shop floor. The boy Mom had to rape him for, she always said. An unreliable fool who’ll end up a postcard forgotten in an apron pocket. I knew, the songs told me: after a time all pockets are lost.
At Nana’s I studied the picture of her uncle, gone to old Mexico to hide and die, his fancy vest and two-gun rig. How his eye chased hope, but his mouth was wicked. A bad boy who didn’t deserve redemption, Nana’s church-word.
Throat sore from singing, I rose and swayed—and wanted to stay, to ease slow into the great, grassy pond of Kansas. I brushed off for the ride back to the house.
Pump-pump, push-push—a bump over the rough edge and I left the zazz of late summer meadows, the hovering midge clouds illuminated by sol invictus. Wheeled slow past warm orange windows, lit from within—o take me in—and reached for an ember 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 steered one-handed, heat in my close-held fist.
A place where everyone said please and thank you, and knocked before entering—where’s that? where the only slaps were screen doors, as heat retreated and light got small, where it took all evening to finish saying hey? where love gathered for loud breakfasts, galleon lunches, and linger-long, lamp-lit dinners on mis-matched grandma-china? where none were left hungry? where front-porch fiddles reeled under a midnight moon, scratched out lullabies for old-timers and sleepyhead babes? where children were safe from calloused hands? where was that dreamland door?
At the final turn I stopped, straddled my cross-bar. I opened my empty hand, held it up to the last of the light. Heat rose, disappeared. Time to forget best-beloved poems, to put away purloined phrases and secret syllables, Whitman words and Sandburg songs. To quiet
I turned my handles, stood, and push-push’d, empty eyes on worn black tires.