Friday, June 11, 2004

JUNE 13-19, 2004

On Sunday morning, bright and early, I'll be leaving for a week's visit to Smith Center, Kansas. The book says it's a 12 hr. 47 min. drive; last time I did it in 12 hr. 15 min. non-stop except for gasoline and bathroom; I had to drive steady, and sometimes fast, to cut the time by half a hour - I remember the 90 m.p.h. semis hurling themshelves from Omaha to Lincoln, Nebraska; I just climbed in the hammock between them and they carried me.

I will post "Saturday's Poem" for you tomorrow; then I'll post another "Saturday's Poem" on June 19 from Smith Center before I leave for home.

I will return to blog here either Sunday, June 20, or Monday, June 21st. See you then!


SEPTEMBER 13, 2003, cont'd

In September, 2003, I drove down through North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, into Kansas; I drove from Rugby, North Dakota, site of the geographic center of the North American continent, to Smith County, Kansas, home of the geographic center of the lower 48 states; I drove along the western edge of the middle west, staying between the 99th and 100th Meredians. It was mostly backroads I drove, not the highways but the lowways, the by-ways. I wanted to see what the western spine of the middle west looks like. This is the sixth part of my report of the trip. Here I have just crossed the Missouri River on Highway 47 in South Dakota, just south of Fort Thompson. It is still Day One of the drive.

Sign: "Big Bend Dam - Corps of Engineers - US Army."

Sign: "Good Soldier Recreation Area."

Then I am rising away from the Missouri, climbing out of its chute. The hills are like women lying about immodestly, they don't care who sees what they've got. You cannot pay attention to both the road and the landscape. You have to pull over and take a look.

Sorghum and range-land and an abandoned house leaning thirty-five degrees towards its doom. You cannot hold onto the future if you cannot stand up straight. "All fall down," I remember from a children's game. The house "all fall down."

An old one-room school house going to its ruin on its little plot of nothing. The wind whistles as sad a song as any in the cemeteries.

I've driven into wheat country again. Off down a lane next to a field of stubble sits a semi, half a mile from the road.

I pass a little cemetery just north of Reliance, South Dakota; I blink at it and keep going.

The population of Reliance is 169. The community is losing its struggle. It is choking on its uncertain future.

Okay, people, these are not pronouncements. They are quick impressions, observations made at 60 m.p.h. I might have missed something important today. I might continue to miss things that are important. The point is: I'm out here looking. I'm trying to gauge, to understand. I'm not flying over at 35,000 feet. I'm here to see it up close.

I pass beneath I-90. All the drivers look so serious, so stern, so earnest. What's so great about the Interstate?

I feel as if I am a long ways from home. I always feel this way when I'm in South Dakota. I don't know why. Perhaps it was my mother's homesickness on our vacation to the Black Hills when I was a child; she had to get home to her chickens. Perhaps it was my grandmother's family, which tried South Dakota, but then retreated to Iowa. Perhaps it is the way the light lays on things.

I come over a rise and the view makes me admit that this doesn't look like the middle west any more; south of Reliance, it could be the west.

My left shoulder is sore form the day's long drive. Am I that much out of shape? What kind of Vagabond gets a sore shoulder from an easy day's drive?

I cross the White River. What water remains is mostly white. The river is mostly dry. It runs all the way from southwestern South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska, it passes Chimney Butte and the Badlands National Park, it forms the northern boundary of Mellette and Tripp Counties and it is nearly exhausted where it reaches the Missouri.

A pick-up with a stock trailer behind it pulls out of a lane ahead of me. I have to slow down. That driver leads me up the hill away from the White River. Another pick-up pulls out of the land behind me.

At the top of the hill, the first pick-up turns left into a field. I don't see where he is going to unload. In the rearview mirror, I see the pick-up behind me turn left too.

Corn is on my left again, to the east; hay and range is on my right. The metaphor holds.

A semi loaded with cars comes towards me; it is headed north on this lonely road. I don't quite imagine its story. Is he hauling used cars? Is he taking them from the back country to the city?

Another abandoned farmhouse falling face down in its sadness. I know I cannot answer all the questions. Sometimes I think I cannot answer any of the questions. Sometimes I think I am jousting at windmills. I am always a poet.

Circle CE Ranch.

Talsma Ranch.

A pick-up with a stock trailer comes at me. A minute behind him, another pick-up with stock trailer. Stock trailer. Cornfield. As is the case with most things at the margins, this is not clearly one thing nor the other. To my left, a Harverstore silo alone at the top of a hill, for instance; to my right, rangy grassland.

The woman behind me in the black car pulled out of a ranch driveway awhile back; she is gaining ground on me. I wonder if she ever muses about things the way I do; or does she just drive to get from A to B? The shortest distance between two points is the poem you write of the journey.

An International tractor sits in a farmyard, a middle western icon with a disk attached behind it. A little farther to the south, another disk and a drag are parked along a fence.

Bar H backwards J.

An abandoned house - well, abandoned except for the cattle rubbing up against it.

The North Star Saloon stands at the intersection of Highways 47 and 44. I am not thirsty. I have miles to go before I sleep.

To be continued....



thick sky

this morning.
The light

diffuse &

Grey as stone.


I cannot return
what I have not taken.

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