WISH YOU WERE HERE
1. In Anne and Dirk’s kitchen, where I have embraced the best and worst kinds of self-indulgence for ten “No, no – it isn’t that,” visitors say. “We knew everyone would be nice, we’ve always heard that about this
place, everyone’s always heard that about this place. We’re just surprised by how nice.”
years now, the topic of conversation is déjà vu. I can’t
remember why. The local suggests that perhaps the dissonance occurs not because the visitors have encountered an unex-
Dirk is troubled that there is no definitive rational explanation for it, this false sense of familiarity. pected depth and/or breadth of friendliness, but because they have confirmed through lived experience what
I am troubled that brains can play tricks. cognitively they had already accepted, consciously or not, as true.
Anne is troubled that it did not occur to her to be troubled by our troubles, and asks for not the last time, The visitors frown. “Hmm,” they say. “Maybe. Probably not.”
“What is wrong with you both?” “No, probably not,” the local says.
I’ve been reading lately about Capgras syndrome, a disorder in which one holds the delusion that an The visitors, once more: “It’s just: So nice.”
intimate has been replaced by an identical-looking imposter. Two French psychiatrists, Joseph Capgras and Apparently they haven’t had occasion to visit my pharmacy, I think. At my pharmacy, grim-faced girls in
Jean Reboul-Lachaux, first described the syndrome in 1923, in the case of a female patient complaining that uncomfortable-looking lab coats approach the counter and stare or sigh until a customer intuits it is his or
“doubles” had replaced her husband, children and neighbors. Doubles also figure in Freud’s 1919 essay on her turn to speak.
das Unheimliche, “the uncanny,” a concept he describes as “that class of the terrifying” that is both familiar These girls, with their heavy reluctance – I want to ask them, “Can I help you?”
and foreign at once. Heidegger tackled das Unheimliche, too, and its associated anxiety. Heidegger called it
“We’re homesick,” I suggest. “Our doubles are homesick, too.”
4. I am spending five days at the beach. Exactly five months ago I spent six days on another beach, some
1,800 miles west of this one. Any distinction I might make from memory between the physical landscapes –
Anne shakes her head. She says, “My double is having an excellent time.” clarity of water, intensity of sun – I would have to invent. Beach is beach to me.
On the first beach, in May, I would lie on a damp lounge chair for an hour or so after sunrise each morning
2. In my apartment, at my desk: I re-read the latest batch of texts and emails, a week’s worth or so. and listen to the waves hurl themselves against the shore with such desperation and regularity that I felt I
could not breathe. When the rhythm became too oppressive, I would go upstairs. One morning I took two
When I reply, I tell him I wish he wouldn’t dash off these cryptic messages and then disappear again. It’s
maddening, this new habit. It seems careless, and done in secret, and not meant for or mindful of me. “I showers in five hours just to try the shampoos.
want to believe there’s something uncompromised in it,” I tell him, “something familiar.” What I mean is, Here, on the second beach, the waves ahead remind me of the experience and the feeling I had on the
who is this imposter? first beach five months ago. I compare this memory with the one that comes next – the new memory of
Sometimes he would forget his watch on my dresser in the mornings, and in the afternoons I would fasten it remembering the first beach, the memory created here on the second beach – and I recognize in the second
to my wrist for an hour or so. I liked to hear it tick. memory an absence of the anxiety in the first.
He says: “Nothing worked.” From what I gather, the shore on this beach simply suffers less reckless waves than the first beach.
He says: “We worked.” In a way, this explains the difference.
At the grocery store down the street, I spin a circular rack of postcards. I’m looking for something specific,
He says: “I care more than you can imagine.”
something with porpoises and a setting sun.
CRYPTIC. I find one of a pair of gulls studying the horizon. It reads, “Wish you were here.”
In The Stranger, Meursault – imprisoned – kills time taking mental inventories of his old apartment. He I consider sending it to him. I consider sending it to the girls at the pharmacy. I consider sending it to Annie
recalls the color and texture of the furniture, the objects atop the furniture, the details of the objects: every Fischer, in Kansas City, Mo., so something is waiting when she returns.
crack, every chipped edge. “Once I learned how to remember things,” he tells the reader, “I wasn’t bored at I’m walking out of the store – empty-handed, because I do not want to be familiar with that particular mo-
all.” ment and emotion and in that particular place – when a new comparison reveals that the absence of anxiety
There’s lots of room for romance in existentialism – I actually said that once. noted earlier has been replaced by the presence of anxiety.
“The more I thought about it,” Meursault continues, “the more I dug out of my memory things
I had overlooked or forgotten. I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a
hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored. In a way, it was
5. I fly home, I unpack. I visit kitchens and allow visitors in mine. Days pass. Weeks pass.
No matter: The gulls remain faithful.
In a way. It helps to think my double may be feeling homesick tonight.
On the one hand.
What my mother likes to say, during the most serious conversations: “On the other hand, she wore a glove.”
At 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, I throw out the toothbrush. Its absence is what I see in the medicine cabinet now. I
sleep on his side of the bed; some ghost sleeps on mine.
I tell him all of this, of course.
I, too, want an audience for my inventory.
Poor Meursault. It is terrible – disadvantageous – to be kept from being bored.
3. “So nice,” visitors say of Kansas City’s residents. “People here are so nice.”
“Wonderful,” a local murmurs in reply. “Are people not nice where you come from?”
David Wayne Reed
Helena had shown up at the restaurant to run the juicer for the new organic drinks we were debuting. She kept her
head down and worked diligently as she pureed the organics. Her work ethic alone proved that she different. She di
dn’t lean, she cleaned. / She was polite, but stand-offish; definitely not there for friends; seemingly only tasks. Also, s
he was quiet. / I find quiet people suspicious. / Helena just wasn't like the rest of us. For starters, she dressed so blan
dly that she became a fashion affront. Her hair lacked a conditioner and she dressed vaguely Amish. / Maybe Helena
was on Rumspringa? Nah, after I watched her plug in the electric juicer I could tell this girl knew the working end o
f an electric cord. As her leg strained tip-toed while feeding a carrot into the juicer, I noted a prison-grade tattoo of a
clothes-line spanning up her leg…from her elfin boot. / Mennonite? / The next week, Helena didn’t show up. Instea
d, a girl named Margaret arrived to run the juicer. She was dressed similarly; brown, black and off-white--elfin boots
all. Unlike Helena, she smiled often and had an infectious laugh. I liked her. It wasn’t until she handed me a smoothi
e that her outstretched arm revealed another tattoo illustrating a wooden rocking chair. / Curious. / For the next few
weeks, other new employees began filling-in; all of them similar in their awkward dress—as if they were fresh from t
he Dust Bowl. Working with them was like working alongside an anachronism. They came as cooks, bussers, dishw
ashers; young men and women both--all with rudimentary tattoos—a windmill, a tornado, a washboard, a swingset.
Their tattoos bore a malevolent whisper “We are a group.” / But a group of what? Were they a group of Steinbeck de
votees? Where did they come from? Beyond the Thunderdome? / They sat by and among themselves as we ate after
our daily shift. Then they would leave with box upon box of leftovers. Another
waitress, Jenn said “They just don’t like outsiders. It’ not just you…or me. It’ anybody.” / This made me want to get t
o know them even more. “So, how did they all know each other?” Are you part of a singing group—you know--with
your little outfits?” I was trying to be hard-line and jovial at once. / Naturally, that didn’t work so I began to barter. I’l
l give you a cigarette if you tell me how you know Helena. “Well, I used to pick apples at an orchard in Maine and aft
er that I met up with Helena just outside Minneapolis.” Hey, Emmett—you want a cold beer? Okay--howd you meet ’
Jess? / A 12-pack of PBRs and a _ pack of Camel Lights and I had found out that they had come from all over the cou
ntry and squatted together in a abandoned mansion in the Northeast--a live music venue they called the Charles Ma
nsion. This still wasn’t enough. But what’ your common link—How do you all know each other? “Fawn” they said. S
everal noted that Fawn had one day awoken in a ditch and had a vision to come to Kansas City. “So we all came here
Jenn gives me a ride home one day. On the drive, I turn to Jenn and say “So they’re in a cult, right?” / “RIGHT?!” sh
e says. “I don’t get them. They’re quiet, they won’t talk about their sex lives…they wear weird clothes. It just doesn’t m
ake sense—I mean, we work in a restaurant for Christ’ sake. They’re just not like us.” / It’ true that I didn’t have muc
h in common with them—that is except theatre. They had asked me a few weeks earlier if I wanted to be in their ori
ginal play with music called ‘Time Does Not Emit.’ Oh, what’ it about? Helena fixed me with a look and said “It’ a p s
alindrome.” I didn’t want to participate, but I certainly wanted to be a spectator. / “I want to go to their little play.” I s
aid to Jen. “But you have to go with me.” / We arrived at the theatre—a musty old walk-up on Troost next to an anar
chist’ bookstore. We congregated outside; Jen and I imagining the worst, the hyperbole. Which one is Fawn? We w
ondered and then heard the name exclaimed by a group of 4 young women, all dressed simpatico with hairdos so re
prehensible that even the mullet would find offense. These hairdos mimicked Fawn’ own awkward ‘ o. One person
having this hairdo was one thing; a gaggle donning the same was just out-and-out crazy. Did vanity never once cro
ss their minds? / Jenn said “Let’ go get some refreshments.” We ordered a couple cans of coke and then Jenn asks fo
r a bag of popcorn. I grab her arm and whisper “DON’T EAT THE POPCORN! You don't know what's in that butte
r." This is fanatical paranoia, I know, but in this state, Id rather err on the side of safety. Remember Jonestown? / Th
e show begins and cast outnumbers the audience. There is a dry water-ballet before Helena bounds out in a little Mi
nnie Mouse get-up doing a sarcastic little dance. Another performer bangs metal objects hung from a make-shift sta
nd. Another is painted blue and doing backbends; crab-walking the perimeter of the stage. One woman, painted silv
er enters with a puppet of a dog—reconstructed out of actual dog bones. They sing and howl. They say their lines bu
t I can’t grasp what is said. The lines are delivered nonsensically and intermittently when remembered. We sit transfi
xed by this pioneer spirit, fearful that it’ verging on Donner Party. / The show doesn’t end with a mass suicide like Id’
imagined. I’m relieved, though a bit disappointed. I shake my head; disillusioned. Jenn and I leave and head to her c
ar. “What the hell was that?” she asks. “I don’t know. I just want to leave.” Both of us are scared--so much so that we c
heck the back seats of her car before getting in. We fear Helena jumping up from behind calling “Join us! Join us.” B
ut she doesn’t. / I take off the next few weekends from the restaurant and when I return none of the group is workin
g there any longer. Like water they came and like wind they go. / A few months later and I see Fawn out at a bar--alo
ne. I ask if I can buy her a shot of whiskey and chat. Sure. We down the shot. / “So are you a cult-leader or what?” / S
he looked up and said. “I wish.”
Growing up in a suburb of Kansas City, I would spend many hours scouring the “Style section” of the KC Star,
looking for new events, places, things I needed to check out. One of my favorite places to visit was the Reading
Reptile in Westport. Lizards climbing overhead, cats scampering around small feet, and treasure chests of dress-
up clothes for the patrons left me always wanting more. I’d sit on the floor and peruse through books, later learn-
ing to bring my friend’s daughter so I had more of a cover for going regularly. Having been gone from Kansas
City for ten years, it’s been a lot of reacquainting myself with this fair city, and it’s funny how the Reading Reptile
has become that “place” for me upon my return. It took awhile for me to discover its home now nestled into the
Brookside shops, but I was happy to find that the paper mache and wonders of books still exist. Less animals
running around, but boxes of wonders and delectable cupcakes are there instead. On my first visit back to the
store, I somehow engaged the man behind the counter in a conversation about education, which led to Baltimore
(my adult home), and then, obviously, to The Wire. Augh, I had come back to the place that reminded me of an
old home and a new home. As time passed, I got to know and learn more about the owners of Reading Reptile—
that man behind the counter—and felt that I had made a wise choice to find the store when I was young. When
in another conversation on education with the owner, he mentioned something about me having my own vision
on education, and he was right. But it made me think how cyclical it was that he was saying that to me… be-
cause this place that had given me some of that vision.
Looking Down on Kansas City Normally, those who look down on Kansas City are misinformed people from the
coasts who believe we are still a backwards cow town. But recently I had a chance to do a lot of looking down on
Kansas City, and I was fascinated by what I saw. / The occasion was a night spent at the Hyatt, with a northern
facing room on the 31st floor. Downtown fanned out before us, and my partner Ron and I actually pulled chairs
up to the window to study the view. We had to laugh at ourselves: Ron had been born in Kansas City and I had
lived in the area for almost 40 years. / “What is so interesting about this?” we asked each other, after an hour of
watching the late afternoon cars trickle down Grand, McGee and Oak. / We didn’t exactly have a simple, cogent
answer but we couldn’t tear ourselves away from our window watch. We saw the trains go past; then the West-
ern Auto sign lit up just at dusk, adding an artistic dimension to the cityscape. We noticed the distinctive stars
on the Kansas City Star building along with the cool blue glass of the new Star building. The hair curlers, those
rooftop modern art sculptures, looked great juxtaposed with the shimmering gold cupola of the Grace and Holy
Trinity Church. The Power and Light building, the Marriott, the new arena, the emptying parking lots; the more
we looked down, the more we wanted to look up so we could learn the history behind each structure. / Though
everything was familiar, our vantage point gave us a new angle on our beloved city.
Summer Nights in Kansas City
It’s always a summer night in Kansas City. The air is thick and warm and people surround you. People with
similar interests to yours. They’ve just left the same concert, show, performance as you. They excitedly recall their
favorite aspects, things you recall too. The streets chatter, dozens of conversations threading into one specific
sound. The words linger, floating above you piece by piece until you pass a bar or venue whose mouth gapes,
open wide; joining in on the conversation, not wanting to be left out. The music from within jumps out at you,
grabbing your attention only to disappear, diminuendo, the sounds of one blending into the next. Kansas City is
different from other cities. Unique. There are lights, but not too many. Just enough. The city will lie down to rest
eventually before the sun comes up. It grows tired just as you do. You can walk slowly at night. One foot in front
of the next, you have time to carefully mull over each step, to glance into the dark glass of the shop windows-
you can just make out what the store might be like when it’s awake if you look hard enough past your own face
gazing back at you. You don’t have to worry about the people behind you pushing past in a rush, they’re all going
the same place you are, or they might as well be. The streetlights give off a warm orange glow that seems to hum
along in time to the sounds of the streets, adding another layer to the harmony.
I turned the wrong way the first couple of weeks
Going to the loft
Finally turning right instead of left
I said to him, “This feels temporary to me”
Which turned out to be true
I was brought in on the wake of a luscious seismic catastrophe, lured toward a vertical emptiness that pulled
beneath sheer planes and still swiveled like tectonic scissors smeared with neon magma. I looked to the bisected
hills above and their horizon was still along with the whiteness behind. I traced their edges to follow a hazy,
white piping into the tiled sky and became in a room of remembrance. Then the walls dissolved and only the deja
vu remained so I willed myself to fly from the chasm and those fluorescent cascades to be lost. / Reemerging
as a giant above a glacial plane, I witnessed the vague memories of its inhabitants projected before all on a great
wall. Orgiastic liaisons beneath waterfalls butting up against deep, gelatinous voids of emptiness and fire rose up
in arectangularly serpentine form that fractured above me into space. I spiraled into the core of their thought to
find that there was left only the inverted tatters of a vibrant distance. I understood that the land was here and it
was now and it was but a broken vision of many icy strangers whose world was their own. / Having sunken into
a sapphire darkness, I was beckoned down a row of warm, spherical lures into a razored net. Through it I could
glimpse a shadowy, familiar space for seconds before I began to feel the drowning on my skin. / I sensed circles
of time winding to align in concentric, alien ways, each second containing the hours of a day made up of years. I
felt the diagonal weight of the end of nights against a blown, white air and I attempted to read the clocks of many
pasts as they coiled around places I had never been in minuscule, tethered shards that severed differences until
they were the same.
My grandmother lived in a shotgun-style house on Lawndale Avenue. Such houses were called this because the
living room led into the bedroom, which led into the kitchen; a bullet could pass through each room without hitting
a wall. Shotgun. / For the first ten or eleven years of my life, this is the house where I remember visiting my grandmo
ther. / There was a whole row of shotgun houses on one side of my grandmother’ hilly street. The houses opposite
seemed to have arrived later; they were brightly colored and looked more like 1950s bungalows. My grandmother’ s
house, with its tangle of rosebushes hiding the porch, seemed ancient compared to the square, yellow homes across
the street. / Shotgun is a bastardization of shogon, which means “God’ House” in West Africa. According to an
architecture historian, John Biggers, the style was born in West Africa. Freed slaves, whose Haitian ancestors lived
in such houses before being brought to Louisiana, built this style of home. And the style became a hallmark in the
South, and eventually across the country, up until the Depression years. / Elvis Presley was born in a shotgun style
house. / I sang Bible songs with my sister in my grandmother’ shotgun house. We stayed with her every other
weekend, and went to church with her on Sundays. / It’ closed now, Centropolis Baptist Church on Truman Road. /
The shotgun house on Lawndale is gone, too. It was razed sometime in the 1980s. My grandmother had already
moved to a house a few blocks away, one that had an upstairs floor, though my grandmother, increasingly skittish
about living in the city, always slept downstairs. / When I remember that house on Lawndale what I remember first
is the swell of the street, how one side – my grandmother’ – was high on a hill and the other side was like a valley
from a Technicolor Western. / I also remember the maze of alleys behind the shotgun houses, and how, in the 1970s
, elderly women gathered in the back and talked over their crumbling fences as they hung laundry to dry. /
Lawndale was a street of the post-WW II generation. When those folks died or moved into retirement homes, their
places were taken by renters with no sense of history or community. By the mid 1980s, what made the street
pastoral, even in its working-class origins, had fully soured into urban blight. / That’ not the Lawndale I want to
remember. Fortunately, my childhood memory is constructed more fluidly. Like a shotgun house.
My Worlds Outside of Kansas City
I, Jacob Jones, live in Kansas City, Missouri. My daily life consists of a fairly routine schedule of work and chores. The radius of my
travels is roughly five miles within the heart of the City. I work at the Nelson Atkins. I’m a guard who stands in the art galleries through-
out visiting hours, lost in my own mind. Each day through the different seasons, I enter the beautiful limestone temple of art, and here
I escape into different worlds that surround me. I dream of traveling through the countryside of Europe in the back of a wooden cart.
Sometimes my journey is halted by a shepherd and his sheep as they cross my path. The land rolls with colorful fields where mounds
of harvested haystacks stand and a distinct sunset casts light of the purest form on all that is around. Through my travel on the ancient
roads, I pass by villas, villages and hamlets that have stood for hundreds of years. The people of this land are quiet and friendly; they
go about their daily tasks with their worn wooden tools. / Other moments of my day, I love to find myself in the young country of the
United States. In this vast land the wilderness is wild, the air is pure, and the water is clean. The landscape has a striking gold and green
color. It is apparent food and resources are plentiful. The people are from the salt of the Earth, and they will lay the foundation for my
country. In the Orient , I don’t understand the language but their dreamscapes of pink cherry blossoms, white lotus flowers, guardian
lions and lucky dragons take me to an exotic world. I enjoy floating from the sharp rugged mountains where the cranes soar amongst
the clouds, and I move gently to the soft luscious gardens where koi swim. Finally, I find myself in the solace of Buddha’s temple, and it
is here that I find peace. / At the end of my shift, I leave the museum and enter back into the reality of the City. In this world it is noisy
with sirens and gunshots, loud crazy people roam the streets, and poison air is all I breathe. I return to my apartment on Warwick Avenue
to find piles of clothes waiting for me to put away, and in the kitchen, empty cartons of frozen food containers spill over the garbage
receptacle. I wait for the night to pass, so I can return to the wonderful worlds outside of Kansas City that greet me at the museum, each
A STORM PASSED
New cityscape, streets slick
with the moment now passed
I let my eyes blur and it transforms,
now an Impressionist painting
Lights reflect on the wet street
distorted strings of color
Colors that bounce off each other,
as if surrounded by mirrors
Blink and the picture clears,
but the street is still glossy, newly varnished
Empty except for the streaks of light
and the solitary man, the first to brave
the naked, shining street,
not quite cleansed by the storm
Red streetlights are no obstacle
as long as the lifeless sky
keeps its calm
When I was ten years old, my dad took me to my first Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. It was
one of those bright and crisp September days that almost make up for a brutal August. You could smell the bar-
beque from Independence center. Red and white tents packed the parking lot covered by a pale cloud that grew
from the grills and smokers underneath. Footballs flew through the air from every direction, while grown men
in red sweat pants juked and jived between defenders and scored imaginary touchdowns. In the background, Ar-
rowhead stood giant and mythical. I smelled for the first time the perfect mixture of smoked ribs, cigarettes and
spilt beer. / In the second quarter, Derrick Thomas sacked Steve Young in the end zone; the stadium exploded
and shook with noise, and I screamed at the top of my lungs and still couldn’t hear my own voice. My dad gave
me a two-handed high five and my heart damn near jumped out of my chest. In this game labeled the Vindica-
tion Bowl by Sports Illustrated, Joe Montana led the Chiefs to a 24-17 victory over the 49ers. After the game,
when most of the crowd was celebrating in the parking lot, my dad took me down to the lower level to find Joe
giving an interview. I stood fifteen feet from the greatest quarterback of all time. The next year my dad bought
season tickets, and we went to every game. / For me, Chiefs Sundays were better than Christmas. As I got older,
my dad and I had less and less in common. Between his divorce and my various rebellions, there were plenty
of times we had nothing left to talk about—yet, we could still talk about football. We could find that thread in
the dark that linked us together and reminded us that we were father and son. Those memories could flood any
room with smoked ribs and sunshine, giving us a place to start. I love my dad and I love those afternoons, and
because of that, I still love the Chiefs. Smoked Ribs and sunshine.
THE CRITIQUE: OBSERVATION
She keeps finding herself in situations with the Lawrence local. A warm blanket
of strangers wrapped tightly around her bare arms. Lawrence is the Baskin Robbins
of burnouts, college students, young professionals, small families and a friendly
mental community. Each person, connected by a uniform heartbeat, the traffic pat-
terns of living a quiet Kansas life. In the summer's heat, every type of local is
sucked out of their homes into the streets. / The setting of these situations
change: bar, gallery, record store, restaurant. The Lawrence locals stay the
same, as if changing the depth of their tan alters how they will be perceived.
They dress in the plain garb of honest, blue-collar men. A pair of khaki trou-
sers don’t exist without at least one tear. The vices in their lives worn on torn
sleeves. / She is lured to them with morbid curiosity. The weight of their sor-
row forms wrinkles on their face and opens their bar tab to strangers, both at-
tractive and not. Mainly, they are drawn to the waitresses that serve them, con-
tent to ogle females politely. The free liquor buys the tired waitresses an ass
pinch every now and again. They flirt shamelessly, not hoping for anything but
the brief attention of a semi-attractive tart. In their sadness lies an innocent
purity. The simplistic lifestyle of the Lawrence local baptizes them into a realm
of ignorance. Ignorant to the ambition their lives once held as wide-eyed 20 year
olds. Dropping out of college for a term was a good idea once. When did their am-
bition disintegrate into the comforts of watching tight asses quake inside short
denim cut-offs? How many beers does it take to drown the joy of hoping for the
concept of a "better life?”
Airports Are All the Same (or Are They?)
I get nervous in strange airports. Suddenly all those warning announcements, so boring and repetitive back
home, pounce into my mind like fully grown tigers: “Don’t leave baggage unattended.” “Keep your belong-
ings with you at all times.” Instead of casually flinging my backpack into the other chair next to me at the food
court table, I hustle it to a place between my feet where I imagine no thief would (literally) stoop to steal it. I
furtively survey every face within an eight-foot radius for hidden intentions. I make fantastic Walter Mitty con-
tingency plans for snatching my purse back from a purse-snatcher. / I’m a city girl, born in Memphis, raised in
New Orleans, and living for quite a few decades in Kansas City. But these are comfortable middle-sized cities,
redolent with the genteel politeness and hospitality of the Midwest and the Old South. / Boston, New York and
San Francisco are different –not to mention Paris, London, and Athens. I visit these cities often; I love to travel.
But my fear of airport mayhem continues to keep me on High Alert despite the fact that the only purse snatch-
ing I ever experienced was in the middle of a crowded street in my own fair city. / Why the anxiety in these
big-city airports? I’m a stranger there. No matter how hard I try, I can’t click my heels and be back in Kansas.
Despite the reassuring sameness of food courts and newsstands, the looks of Bostonites and Brooklynites are
different from what I’m used to. Any minute now, one of them could look at me and – well, let’s just say that I
think all of The Avengers AND their enemies constantly roam the airports, on the lookout for innocents like me.
/ Yet I crave difference, diversity, and distinction. Why else travel? I crave that sharp edge of adventure, of
plunging into the unknown. I welcome the unexpected. I fantasize being swept off my feet by Captain America
or rescued by Iron Man. / I just don’t want to get mugged or beset by problems I can’t solve. And, heaven for-
bid, I don’t want to be stupid. Otherwise, my stay-at-home friends will all chime in with their “I told you so’s”
and “you have to learn to be more careful.”
24 Memories of a Kansas City Christmas
1. being in a great crowd of people Thanksgiving night, hearing the crowd go “ahhhh” when the Plaza lights
2. looking at the Plaza lights while walking back to the car - at least half a mile away
3. looking at the Plaza lights while driving through the Plaza at 5 mph
4. driving 45 miles the day after Thanksgiving to the tree farm, in weather nippy enough to wish I’d worn my
scarf and hat
5. tramping around the farm for an hour, finding the perfect tree, cutting it down and hauling it back
6. bringing home the perfect tree and having to cut at least a foot off the bottom for it to fit our ten foot ceiling
7. making the perfect wreath for the front door from the leftover tree branches
8. putting the perfect wreath on the back door and buying a better looking wreath for the front door
9. taking an eggnog-laced-with-bourbon break
10. looking for all the boxes of tree lights and decorations in the basement
11. lugging the boxes of tree lights and decorations upstairs
12. finding out that at least half the tree lights don’t work this year
13. driving to the 24 hour drugstore for more tree lights and more egg nog
14. taking another eggnog break while testing all the new lights
15. deciding it’s time to play holiday music while we wrestle with putting the tree into the stand
16. putting on the tree lights
17. admiring the tree lights while drinking more eggnog
18. unwrapping all the ornaments, oohing and aahing as we remember how we acquired each one
19. putting on the ornaments while finishing off the eggnog
20. throwing on the tinsel
21. realizing we didn’t leave enough room at the top of the tree for the angel; deciding what the hell, we’ll just
wrap some angel hair up there
22. looking at last year’s tree skirt and noticing all the wrinkles and deciding a sheet will do
23. plugging in the tree lights and turning off all the other lights
24. deciding once again that this year’s tree is the best ever
The unnatural fever of this sunrise
In cool breaths
Beneath the trees.
I am resuscitated,
Mouth to mouth, mouth to skin,
Waking, tangled, from a numb red swoon.
A damp spider web is smeared across the meadow
Like a greasy fingerprint.
The dammed-up lake lies still,
Clouded like a cataract,
In its corners,
Clots of weed ferment
And sweat slick curls of steam
Like foul breath on a silvered mirror.
When I ride out early in the day
I commune with all the wanderers who didn’t make it home last night,
Little bandits, stuffed with dross,
A deer whose eyes were full of moonshine
When the headlights barreled down like fierce twin suns.
Closer into town,
To the torn last of a squirrel,
Or maybe it’s the carcass of a broken shoe?
In this phase-haze I can’t tell
If I’m remembering a stubbed out moth or a cigarette suicide.
To pass through delirium is to understand
The madness of borders,
To cease seeking a place to end or to begin,
Or a refuge from pathogens.
Here I am,
Spittle sagging in every ragged hedgerow,
With a muscled tongue.
JULIA COLE CONTINUED...
Like a product line,
Like the remake of a classic anything for faster times,
The Midwestern spring comes on.
Just flip a switch and there it is.
All at once the standard shrubs and fruitless cherry trees
Glow chlorine green among their tidy branches.
And zap! kapow!
Pink blossoms are bursting like bubble gum,
A zillion swellings synched by nano pumps.
Cheerful, perfect daffodils and hyacinths
Flicker and flash
In momentary, waxy bursts of brilliance.
Then, like tatty bulbs
On a one-week sale marquee,
And go dark.
The heat is on.
I dreamed that in the space of a long rain
The shallow inland seas came rolling back
Over the memory of the prairie,
Drowning the barren cul de sacs, tilt ups and vinyl walls
In a green sunset light.
As the cold water combed the submarine suburbs,
Couches, and ride-on lawnmowers, and cute lawn ornaments
Piled up into reefs and gullies,
And the hands of pudding people waved like ghastly blue corals
In the slow currents.
Happily, this is also the dream in which I can breathe water.
I glide effortlessly through the waving treetops,
And though the loss is complete, my heart is still and peaceful.
I am not alone.
There are others who glide by,
Naked, or trailing remnants of pajamas,
And we pass but do not look into each other’s eyes.
Here and there,
In the reefs of debris
Half-buried screens flicker.
In this silent, perfect world,
Stained fingers of light twitch and gyre,
Marking the absurd, infinite indifference
That my cool and weightless skin refuses.
The Poem About The Car With All Those Dolls On It
handicap spaced in front of bookstores
displaying obsession most would keep
in the basement of self
left to cling on
bare swinging filaments
but your little pieces planted over the years
multiplying through impulse pollenation
are for the casual glance
these foraged self definitions
saved to sort
to qualify in next years harvest
the expanding village
piling up your rear widow
chattering small town talk with every pothole
with scripture verse and doll eyes
your factory gray panels channeling creeks of rust
on the outskirts
of your crowded little garden
A city rich in history,
an evolving fingerprint.
The flash and flaunt of new colliding
with the weight of a fading past.
The voices of those who lived, loved, and died whisper on,
shaping stories that have yet to be written.
At the crest of Scarritt Point, freshly blighted hopes
mingle in the mist,
touching elusive dreams secretly spun
beneath the deep crown of a broad brimmed hat.
In the West Bottoms, the setting sun
caresses shattered panes and crumbling brick,
casting a romantic glow
on newly minted notices
and the extinct signage of yesteryear.
On stately Union Hill,
cutthroat cries of “Condos For Sale!”
muffle echoes of the Civil War.
And in the Stockyards,
the stir of a slaughterhouse in its heyday
haunts the uncertain future of an aging arena.
The shuttered windows of the past open
to embrace the light of a new day in Kansas City.
We’re on the road again. We’re not there, but we’re nowhere near where we started. We’re homesick, but we’re far
from ready to be home. I hear a train in the distance, and I think back to Flagstaff. We drive to Denny’s to get
that familiar cup of coffee. There is a man drinking coffee and writing in his little book. He keeps track of the
trains rumbling by: how many he sees, and the number of cars they tow. We watch him for a while. I like data
too. There’s a comfort in knowing what’s what. I’m not sure if that’s the same reason he's collecting information
or not. We sip coffee waiting for day to break. It will be a long winding drive into that canyon. I buy a cup to go.
/ We drive down the small town’s main street. I spot a cosmic powder blue plastic clock in the window of an
antique shop, and it reminds me of Tucumcari. It's that same cup of coffee we were after when we walked into
the local Denny’s. It hasn't been remodeled since the mid 60s. Some places pay big bucks to fake that retro look.
Not this place, it reads completely genuine. I feel like I am walking into a movie set, it's so surreal. The waitress
looks tired. I can tell her feet hurt. She fills cups at will, with no mind to the perfect balance in my cup that she
is carelessly disrupting. It always takes just the right ratio of milk and sugar to make it perfect. / We stop at
a truck stop gas station. I wander through the endless isles of souvenir crap with the name of the closest large
city stamped on it. It’s always the same stuff, different city. I see a conch shell and pick it up to listen. I hear the
ocean and think of Venice Beach: sitting in that same booth with that same cup of coffee as I look out the seaside
window at the Pacific. The kids are playing with their boogie boards, and girls are stealing glances at the boys.
A strange little man is going from blanket to blanket with his bottle of suntan lotion offering application to any
lady that will tolerate it. I remember sitting there all day watching the people and the waves, hypnotized. As night
fell, I took my coffee onto the beach where the nightly drum circle was starting. There was a cool breeze coming
off the ocean, but I was toasty warm in my hoodie with my coffee in front of the fire. It felt like home. / Rarely
going through the same town twice, I find solace in knowing that a familiar place is always ahead. The coffee is
always the same—lkj it's just the geography that’s different. No matter where you go, there you are…home.
As I wander through Oak Park Mall and past the high end, name brand shops, I watch the shoppers snatch up
the endless supply of Coach purses, Fossil watches and whatever lacy things pour out of Victoria’s Secret and I
wonder ‘have I been here before?’ Of course I have...in this mall and many others across the Kansas City area.
But the ‘here’ I remember was a very different mall landscape. / I was born and raised in Kansas City and grow-
ing up, the area was peppered with more shopping malls than the small space really needed. We were certainly
not a rich family but, back then, malls used to be destination spots, and I remember spending lots of time at any
and all of the area malls. While often times the mall trips were planned around the purchase of new shoes or new
school clothes or gifts for birthdays and Christmas, we made many other trips with no purchases in mind. Yet
there was always something to do or see because these great infrastructures of commerce were also places where
families went to eat or see movies or buy pet supplies (or even the pets themselves) or search for the latest album
or simply just hang out. / Most of these KC malls now lie empty or have been torn down, but any time I drive
by the areas that used to hold these giant wonders, I mourn for the adventures I had in the places I had been
before. / My aunt lived right down the street from Bannister Mall, and I remember almost monthly trips to visit
her and the subsequent treks to the mall. / Oak Park Mall and Metcalf Mall were closer to home and these were
the malls where I shopped for each school year’s wardrobe. / I remember saving my allowance for months so I
could buy something at the Hello Kitty store in Bannister Mall. / I remember seeing The Muppets Movie at Oak
Park Mall because most theaters at that time were inside the malls. The first time we tried to see it, they loaded
the wrong movie reel and we inadvertently saw the gory beginning to some adult cop movie. / I remember
eating at Annie’s Santa Fe in Bannister Mall. / I remember my sister begging to spend just a few more minutes
in Ward Parkway’s pet store. I would patiently wait with my grandmother and watch the fish in the aquariums
built right into the mall walls. / I remember buying my first Swatch Watch at a Macy’s that had a glass elevator.
/ I remember at 13 I fell in love with the long-haired boy who worked at my favorite shoe store inside Bannister
Mall. / Oak Park Mall had a Dairy Queen and a Taco Via and this really cool little diner inside the JCPenney. /
Metcalf Mall had fantastic water features...some three stories high and some you could walk across. / I remem-
ber spending countless hours in the arcade at Oak Park Mall (do arcades even exist any more?). / I remember
walking into one of the KBToys and accidentally running into one of the first releases of the Cabbage Patch Kids.
As my mother let me and my sister pick one out, we had no idea just weeks later the demand for the dolls would
cause mayhem and fist fights. / I remember how every Christmas each mall would decorate with lavish decora-
tions. Metcalf Mall had an old-school animated Peter Pan scene and skating bears and Oak Park Mall always had
the most spectacular Santa Claus wonderland. / Later in life, I actually wound up working at Oak Park Mall and
for two years became a mall rat. I ate my dinners in the food court and made friends with the other mall patrons.
It was its own little city, and I loved being a part of it. / Unlike today’s KC malls (the few that still exist), these
old malls had lives and personalities and stories to tell. Back then, it wasn’t just about the mass consumption of
the latest and greatest. It was about the experience. And then something changed and the stores started mov-
ing out or closing up and eventually the mall doors started closing for good. / I went into Metcalf Mall not too
long ago just to see the old space I used to love. It was weird. Someone is still maintaining the place. The floors
are polished and everything is clean. But the storefronts are empty, their gates pulled down and lights dark. The
fountains and water features sit waterless. And my footsteps echoed in the space where I used to spend so much
time as a kid. And each time I randomly pass these spaces, I realize they are now just spaces where I had been
Nadine B.A. Long
The trees are always the first thing I look for. After traveling for hours in cramped quarters, switching time zones
and wandering through unfamiliar airport terminals all alone, I look for the trees. They stand apart from the
city, suddenly appearing on the side of highways to create a forest of their own. It takes time to reach them, but
every time, it’s worth it as we round the corner and I see them for the first time, again. They’re skinny things. If
they knew any better they might be ashamed. But they’ve been there so long that I can’t help but stare at them in
awe as we fly by. I imagine wandering through them in the day, a trip on foot as the fallen needles crunch below.
Magic could happen among these trees, ancient, dark, fairy-tale magic: sorcerers meeting in the dark to plot
and plan, mythical beasts roaming unseen by everyday folk unless they choose to be seen. / These trees are half
trunk, half needle-covered branches, and they mean everything about this place to me. / The trees lead to long
walks with her, crossing through country paths and grand estates, her energy boundless when there was some-
thing to be done. Picking tiny wildflowers to arrange in a natural bouquet at home. Turning on the radio as a
special occasion and falling asleep during Elvis movies. They lead to long evening meals, laughter and conversa-
tion that I don’t quite understand all around me. They lead to events that happened so quickly that they should
be forgotten; people I think of constantly but rarely talk to, who share their hearths openly. I look for the trees
in my memory to reach everything else. / And when I return, after another long flight, cold airports and rest-
less sleep, I see different trees - large trunks, winding branches, set far apart from each other and magical in their
own imposing way. Trees that change color and stand cold and alone in winter. Trees made more for climbing,
for nights when friends tell ghost stories and we go wandering in open fields until we’re scared and run back
toward farmhouse floodlights. A different kind of home. Places by Trees . Nadine B.A. Long
GUSTAVO ADOLPHO AYBAR
A Recipe Story
That’s Paula Deen!
Abuela’s lips—dark brown,
Like a gumbo of greens thickened
With roux—sweeten. She returns
To the trill of stirring
And the scent of Southern
Cuisine. Thick Spanish
Mimics a twangy Hey Y’all.
Abuela replaces paprika
For comino, parsley for cilantro.
We watch her tv show,
Know her sons and brother
Also cook.—I know her laugh.
Cornbread con canela trails
Trapped in the wind.
The clouds dream of rain
Or snow. I stand outside
Paula’s restaurant, press
Nose to glass. Abuela
Peels mangos, slices fruit.
Tia Licha’s House
What I remember? I remember at four years of age
tia Licha told me to stop—
white sheets, yellow stains.
At twelve, opening iron gates, hand in hand
tia, rubbing index finger on my palm
saying, “this is how you get a girl to sleep with you.”
Tia’s house invokes memories of cherry scents,
of extreme heat, mosquito nets, outdoor latrines,
night time bed pans, and of containers filled with cutting water.
Who says that something dirty can’t be beautiful?
Who says dirty thoughts can’t be innocent?
The pipes run water. Electricity lasts
twenty hours or more. She has a kitten now,
and most days there’s food enough for two.
Walking In Memphis
I bought you more passion fruit juice. I’m leaving
the bathroom with the Cosmo’s,
and that towel stained with hyacinth untouched; it always drowned
the squalor. Everything is a dusted smile.
What happened to our Pledge?
I’ll check under the sink; something about the lemon
scent and its twilight setting that makes gathering shadows
less of a chore. This reminds me, I’m leaving the laundry dirty
since you believe I ruined your sweetest taboo. Down
the hall past pictures of family and of our first
trip to Graceland for Sadina’s wedding—Bon Jovi plays.
It’s a quarter to 5, and wanting to be gone before you get home, I abandon
all hopes for hospital corners and extra fluffy pillows. Closing
the door behind me, singing,
“Shot through the heart and you’re to blame,
you give love a bad name.”
Stopping On the sidewalk
She chastised me with all the grace of Persephone.
Her dirty yellow curls flouncing about
Suggested those of a certain sheep
I have seen in a book as a child.
As she put me down
I remembered the night we danced in the cathouse.
I could have imagined
The intention of her killer black dress
And the blood-memory of her hips.
The sloppy kiss could have been social etiquette
Or a cliché about alcohol and muscle coordination,
But I still spun around
At a tuft of blonde in the window,
Trembling with my poetry and suede coat
And she seemed so damnably unconcerned,
Like tall men in jackets
Are excited by her reflection on a regular basis.
If I Thought her neck was hollow
I would build a nest to house my children,
Feeding them with the fleshy core
Of her tongue
So that they would spit beautifully.
With the atmosphere
Of a drunk looking at the universe,
I cannot help feeling
Driving to Michigan
Is a sensible solution
To my lack of intellect
Around her French baguette legs
And sharply angled face,
Giving money to the neighbors
For killing helpful snakes.
TAYLOR WALLACE CONTINUED..
While I Wait for another China-blue stare
I wonder when you were last told
To hold parted your hair,
So robins might sing appreciation
To your slightly waking eyes.
How could I articulate our first meeting?
You distracted me from my printing.
How could I hear a voice
Scooping away oxygen
And forget the sound
Soon after showering?
Even if you were slumped into
Fingers curled around chin and mouth
As if casually nibbling them.
What could I say of your complexion
With a bag of animal crackers
That does not compliment
Maybe you should be a cookie
If I am someone who eats cookies
From his shirt pockets.
If you asked me honestly,
I would set you on a red couch,
Tell you that we had met as sea turtles
Before either of us knew when to swim
Away from the shore.
JOHN REID A.K.A THE LONE RANGER
March 28, 1906
My dear Susanna,
I hope you are well and that Emmet has returned from his travels to Denver. I have
been enjoying my visit to Kansas City, and I continue to find Dan to be an excellent
travel companion. I am fortunate to have such a fine young man as a nephew. We are
comfortable in our rooms here at The Baltimore Hotel, and we have every
convenience. I do, however, find the horseless carriages in the street below to be
noisy, and I will once again appreciate the quiet of Silver Moon, upon my return to
The Kansas City chapter of the Missouri Historical Society held a luncheon in my
honor and I gave a talk about my experiences as The Lone Ranger. I was introduced
by Mr. Walter Williams, who is an impressive Missouri journalist and gentleman. Mr.
Williams cares deeply about the sort of ethics needed in his profession. As no one
seemed to correctly understand Tonto’s role in our efforts to seek justice, I spoke at
length about his loyalty and friendship. It was distressing that some of those in
attendance took offense by my sincere acknowledgement of friendship with an
Apache. Mr. Williams did his best to mollify those guests, and I believe that the
delicious fruit pies that were served after our meal of roasted beef and potatoes
were a welcome distraction.
Mr. Nathaniel Timberlane, the president of the Kansas City chapter, secured several
admission tickets to a performance of Miss Sarah Bernhardt, and he invited Dan and
me to accompany him. This event was the highlight of our visit here. We were seated
in a tent that was the same size as Jacob and Mary’s small farm. I have never seen
something like this. Mr. Timberlane boasted that it has close to 5,000 seats. Both Dan
and I agree that Miss Bernhardt’s portrayal of a gypsy woman was celebratory. I
have seen only a few theatrical performances in my time, however, I know that I will
never see another like Miss Bernhardt again. I fear, however, that you would deem
her scandalous. She is a beautiful Jewess, although you would not guess her to be
Semetic, if you met her. Mr. Timberlane insisted that Miss Bernhardt would want to
meet a western hero. We visited with Miss Bernhardt in her dressing room, and she
was gracious and quite interested in learning more about my years in what she called
I fear I will bore you with more talk about Miss Bernhardt, however, I do wish to add
that she gave me a gift of two, small ivory figurines that she had purchased in the
Orient, when she performed there. She told me they would bring me good fortune,
and that she admired me for protecting those who could not protect themselves.
We leave for Springfield in four days, and I am looking forward to visiting with
General Sanford and his wife. Muir may be visiting the Sanfords when we are there,
as he has been attempting to persuade every important person he knows to contact
President Roosevelt about the destruction of The Petrified Forest. We shall stay a
fortnight in Springfield and then return to Wichita.
I have admonished Dan for not writing to his mother, and he begged me to include
his greeting to you in my letter.
With My Father Planting Peas
The smell of fresh-turned loam pulls
me across Loose Park to a rose garden, to black
dirt slick and broken and heaped with the scent
of yesterday’s story. Suspended
in this mid-March New Moon day, my father’ shade
leans his shadow against an upturned spade.
In March, he’d turn the cold dirt and rake it,
ready it for dark-of-the-moon planting, for peas
onions, potatoes, that had to be in, he’d tell me,
before St. Patrick’s Day.
Crouched behind him, I’d press green nubs
into black breathing earth, staining my fingers.
Originally published in Kansas City Voices
Printed with the writer’s expressed permission
A Kansas snowstorm forces a car of college students returning home for the holidays to take refuge in the hotel
of a small town where they encounter a fellow traveler, who also seeks shelter, and has a story to tell about the
consequences of another snow storm decades before when a hideous truth is revealed about an old woman. /
“I haven’t told many people this story. Perhaps you’d rather not hear it. I know how hard it is for young people
to listen about what rocked the hearts and flamed the passions of old people when they were young. It seems
so long ago it’s hard to believe lives back then were blood and bone real. And what happened to me that night
reached back into the last century. I mean, Gabrielle was born in the 1880s. No, wait, might as well get it right.
She was eighty-nine when we ran across her and that was in 1963, so she would have been born in...’” he stopped
briefly to calculate in his head and Stephie, the little math whiz, spoke up with the answer, “1874.” Randy Atwood
*Excerpted from the author’s the saltness of time novella.
AFTER A BRIEF MENTION OF THE SUBURBS,
HOMAGE TO SOME SWEET CITY STREETS.
then big world experiences…
Home because Dad was sick.
Before all the tattoos-
so many tattoos.
There were your smells.
At night, more like beerbourbonbarf.
Some days- Mama’s and
laundry, ahhh, cleansheets.
She took the baby so I could eat.
Once, a Molotov cocktail in a gas can-
kaBoom sometime around 3 a.m.
Oh, my heat.
Steeeeam heat in a South-facing space.
forced fresh air-
Back in town and none too soon.
Forest, near Troost.
A little rougher,
or was it?
Only when the gas
got cut off.
Rooms chosen because
of bullet reason.
I liked the cross-dresser’s confidence.
Found in the yard:
three cans of malt liquor,
one used condom,
a whole pile of walnuts,
a microwavable dinner,
an empty carton of chocolate milk,
my neighbor’s dog poop,
and a syringe.
Main Street, in the River Quay.
Because of my anonymity
multicultural day everyday and
young people to hide behind.
with their pampered pets.
Oh, what a view!
The sun was good.
There was a quiet
winter night alond
with those tall tall windows
snow tumbled down
while I pressed cloth and watched ‘Wings of Desire’
feeling swathed in
this city and every mystery.
Offering no anonymity,
you are where I was
meant to be.
depressed and broke
but still painting, making,
Funny, feeling not so odd.
I walk, and talk.
Pigeons swirl smelling barbecue
the signs say
you are here:
Abdiana (the quiet one),
We were married in 1968 at Visitation Catholic Church on Main Street. In 1980 we started our life of profession-
al moves to different states. When we returned to the city of our hearts to retire, we settled at a community in
Raymore. We heard that Visitation had undergone extensive renovation, but we had not gone to see them. Earlier
this year we found a notice about an a cappella music performance at the church and decided to attend. / We
arrived early and wandered around the vestibule and then the sanctuary. At first, I felt alienated, cold, a sensation
of disappointment and rejection. “What had they done to OUR church!” Enlarged, modernized, altered from its
unique, old Spanish style. This proprietary sensation was odd in the sense that we had not been in any church in
years, let alone this one. Yet, I experienced a deep sadness of loss and almost did not want to stay for the concert.
My husband persuaded me to remain at least until intermission. / When the eight singers started performing
and their voices filled the space with glorious harmonies, I closed my eyes. I was transported back to the day long
ago when I walked down the aisle in a simple white dress and saw my groom’s smile, a smile so full of love that
it brought tears to my eyes. The choral voices entered my heart in much the same way, and I was deeply moved.
The essence of OUR church was still there. The serenity of the same spirit that had let us joyfully say “I do,” was
still present. My husband squeezed my hand, and I knew he felt it, too. We had visited Visitation for a concert
and to see the changes. What we experienced was so much more, a love of a very special place rekindled.
Sara Sally LaGrand
Moving through the airport. The voices gently assault you as you navigate roller bags, children with security
blankets, confused passengers, tearful departers. The foreign tongues grate with a repeating echo: “you are not
from this place.” I move through this dream sequence and console myself that only hours separate me from that
which I love. The weeks of travel stress build in the body like the energy of a tsunami. “This time tomorrow,
I will be home,” says the voice in my head. / The customs agent says, “welcome home,” as I glance at the flag.
The New York City skyline gleams like a kitschy souvenir from the giant picture windows at the gate. A sort of
miniature of itself. “Now three hours,” the voice says again. / The dance begins again, another airport, another
town. Moving from gate to gangway, taxi to air borne, touchdown to runway, gangway to gate. Feeling the stress
flow out like the tide as I see the dark blue of the mosaic floor in the terminal… City of Fountains… funky neon
sculpture with water. Now what was that one about again? Broadway Bridge… the smell of coffee… breathing
Crystal Ann Brown
I moved here this summer; it’s land locked and dry. I imagine the sea being forty-five minutes away,
but when I get in my car and head west, I’m lost.
The third time I saw the cops at my house, I thought, this is inconvenient. I was only home for a second, to pick up my suitcase. My cousin was
getting married in St. Louis the next day. I didn’t have a lot of time to tell the story of my house. / My house. Well, sort of. My mansion. Sort of. I’d
been living in the adjacent carriage house for four years. It was only in the last year that the mansion became mine. / That week started with Labor
Day and my first chat with the KCPD. My sister and I were going to set up the art show we were hosting at the mansion. I pulled on my overalls,
walked next door, yanked down on the metal grate that’s been bent by would-be thieves, and unlatched the padlock. The padlock, it was quickly
apparent, had not been enough. The built-in bench at the bottom of the stairs was gone, leaving torn up boards and a shower of dust. / “And I
thought there wasn’t anything left to steal,” I said. I talk to myself. / I began the usual rounds: living room, den, parlor, kitchen, dining room. Up-
stairs bedrooms. Third floor servants’ quarters. Every door had a gaping hole in it, where an antique doorknob used to be. The two leaded glass
windows in the dining room were gone. And there was a mattress on the floor of one bedroom, with an ashtray and a few cigarette butts in it. I picked
up a broom, and then remembered. I guess I should call the cops. / Myers Mansion, I have dubbed it, in an effort to make it a place and not a prob-
lem. Myers Mansion was built by George Myers around 1905. The only thing George and I have in common is that we both have lived in Kansas City.
He made his money in the telegraph industry, and then transitioned to running a sprinkler system company. He loved fishing, and caught a huge
yellowtail on Catalina Island. He loved hot air ballooning, and brought an international balloon race to Kansas City in 1911. He adopted one daughter.
/ In the archives at the University of Chicago, there are a few photographs of the mansion, including a shot of the dining room and the long-absent
built in buffet and recently absent leaded glass windows, and a shot of the house from the outside, showing the lonely, bare land around it. In 1905,
Hyde Park was a new suburb. As recently as 1930, he lived in the mansion. / At certain points in my history with the mansion, I wished I didn’t care
so much about old things, or feel so protective about the city. I wished I didn’t become so attached to where I lived. It doesn’t matter what I wish. The
mansion and I are stuck together for now. / When the cop came over on Labor Day, I gave him the tour. I’m tired of giving the tour now. Before we
held our first event at the mansion, I wrote a brochure so I could hand it out instead of having to yammer on about the same stuff. It didn’t seem right
to give a police officer a brochure, though, so I talked him through the place and he made notes on his pad. On the top floor, he picked up a shower-
head lying on the floor. “Maybe we can get some prints,” he said. / Back at his car, he pulled a kit out of his trunk. “Can you hold this?” he said. It
seemed like a bad idea to hold a piece of evidence, but also a bad idea to refuse his direction, so I held the showerhead. He dusted it with a baby
duster. “The real feather ones are best,” he said. “Microfiber doesn’t do as good a job.” / In 1920, the Myers had several servants in residence: butler
Drek Hawkins and cook Laura Rivers, Herbert Bisch, a chauffeur who likely lived in the carriage house, and a housekeeper named Mamie. By 1930,
Frumar and Eva Billife had come to live and work at the mansion. Frumar, their last recorded chauffeur, was born in Mexico. I had no idea our city’s
relationship with Mexico was that long-term. Census records list all the servants as black, except for Bisch and Mamie, who were white. Their names
are important to me. I wish I knew something more than what the census says, but if you’re not rich, history is unlikely to record your accomplish-
ments. I have to be satisfied with calling my carriage house “Bisch Manner.” / My second police visit that week was at midnight. I woke up to a
banging on my door. I peeked out the window, saw an unfamiliar car, and called 911. Previous tenants, who insisted they were acting on my land-
lord’s behalf, told the police they needed to get into the house to get some of their things. I’d seen them around before, but they’d seemed sketchy, not
threatening. I sat on my stoop while the former tenants talked crazy, and then it was my turn. The cops nodded at me. “We’ll tell them to get out of
here,” they said. “But since you don’t own the place, there’s not much more we can do.” / For a while after my landlord left, there was a motley crew
living in the mansion. There was a guy who liked to park his car on the lawn. There was the couple I would later refer to the cops. The motley crew
ran up the utility bills, and then they left. Unfortunately, I did not realize they were gone until one December morning, when I put my feet on the
floor, and realized the floor was way too cold. / The third visit with the police: I thought, well, my aunt and uncle and cousins are going to get a story.
I needed to finish packing for the family wedding, and then they were supposed to pick me up so we could carpool to St. Louis. Yeah, they were going
to get a story. I followed the sidewalk around the mansion and saw there were a couple of people in handcuffs sitting on the steps, and a couple of
police officers standing around. / “Hey, I live next door,” I said. And then I had to tell another couple of the KCPD’s finest what I was doing there. I
feel like by now, they should all know. / My carriage house still has a claw-foot bathtub and the turntable that rotated the carriage. The windows are
swirly, old glass. The stairs are original, obviously, scuffed. The roof is original—red tile. Strange to take a long, hot bath and know someone named
Herbert Bisch, long dead, also was naked and scrubbing up in the exact same space. The ceiling slopes so sharply in the bathroom that the shower
someone rigged up is barely tall enough for me. There’s a half inch between the top of my head and the ceiling when I shower. The place is perfect for
me. Herbert Bisch probably just used the tub. / It was spring when all this madness began, when my landlord left me a note to call him. We’d always
been friendly, but we were not quite friends. He was from North Carolina, spoke with a gorgeous accent. Every time I saw him, he either told me I
looked gorgeous, or asked after my family. / “Well, it looks like I’m going to be leaving town. The house will probably go into foreclosure, but you’re
welcome to stay on as long as you can.” / “Are you at home?” I said. “Should I come over with a bottle of wine?” / Having your heat turned off in
December is a bummer. I cursed the former tenants. Of course, they weren’t around to hear it. My electric bill had always been separate, but my gas
bill and water bill were not. I made the phone calls, paid the $700. I didn’t have rent to pay, so I had the money. I slept on my mom’s floor for a couple
of nights, and I met the gas man and gave another tour, as he inspected all the furnaces and lines to the water heaters so the place wouldn’t blow up. /
The water being shut off was worse. Right after I got the gas back, the water went. I turned on the bathroom faucet, and it just wheezed. I wanted to
cry, but instead I got back in the car and drove to CVS and bought two gallons of water. When I finally got the water man out to turn it back on, we
realized the copper pipes that would send the water on to my place had been stolen. / I brought my landlord that bottle of wine, and we drank it
sitting in one of the mansion’s half-empty bedrooms, with “American Idol” playing on the TV. I learned he had written a book, that he had been an
actor. He had some good stories about backstabbing and disaster and wild success. / We finished the bottle. “You’re gonna be all right,” I said. / A
friend of a friend came over to look at my pipe problem. Offered to run a separate line, straight from the water coming into the house, across the
mansion basement, and into the pipes that went to my carriage house. He hooked the bypass up, and when I heard water flowing into my kitchen sink,
I leaped up. “I want to kiss you, but I won’t.” Who wants a kiss from someone who’s living without water? / The day he moved out, he gave me a key
to the mansion. “In case you want to do anything over there.” / “Huh. Like I could have an art show, or roller skate?” / “That would be great,” he
said. / I have not roller skated. There is still time.
In the parking lot of Office Depot a young man, obviously homeless and very dirty approached me. Stepping away, he handed a note through my car window. The printing was laborious and the
lined paper had been read and refolded often. Written in the first person, the note described an inability to vocalize. It then stated that the young man was homeless and didn’t use drugs or alcohol and
requested money for food. He waited patiently while I read it. His demeanor was resigned but hopeful and most importantly, non-predatory. I gave him $20. Both of us were shocked at the amount
and he reached through the window and hugged me, crying. I wasn’t so sure about the hug—he was filthy, and I feared head lice. I drove off feeling I had been given a gift.
For many years I taught papermaking and bookbinding at a summer camp in northern Minnesota. On my day off I would drive to a town listed in a certain font size on my State of Minnesota map. It
was usually a certain kind of small town. Downtown consisted of mostly empty buildings, though there was always a thrift store, gas station and maybe a library in what had been a small store. But
they all had a café and that was my destination. I would sit against the wall with my diet Coke and grilled cheese (one piece of American cheese squashed between two pieces of white bread, pickles
if requested) and wait for the stories. I was a bit of a curiosity but only until someone came in with news. Eventually, the conversations circled around to what I heard when I first came in so I left. I
don’t know why, but it was so truly satisfying.
Northern Minnesotans can be pretty idiosyncratic especially in their gardening. High summer is short and resplendent. I found a nursery that cut fleur de lies flower beds into a vast lawn. The owner
said he reshapes the beds frequently to stay interested. He spoke warmly of a cousin in Kansas who also has a nursery. When I returned I searched out the cousin in the Paola area to see what he had. I
was intrigued with the idea of a family spreading plants across the country. The cousin wasn’t sure he knew whom I was talking about.
Highway 70 was shut down at Oakley. We checked into a motel badly in need of updating. The ceiling had sparkles and the long red shag rug surely contained a treasure house of lost stuff. It was a
kind of creepy looking place on the outside as well. Norman Bates would have been at home. We saw a woman outside carrying a broom and our daughter asked if we would have to clean our room. It
was a reasonable though unfounded supposition.
In the late afternoon we walked into town to get some sandwiches at the grocery store. A shopper overheard our story and offered us her coffeepot (which she indeed brought to our room!). She also
told us there was a movie theater but only the ticket taker knew what was playing and the show times. He wasn’t in.
I’ve traveled all over Minnesota looking for Paul Bunyans. I found four Pauls, three Babes the blue ox, and one Lucette (Paul’s wife) with a Paul Jr.
Upsala, Minnesota (pop. 400 or 398 if you’re coming into town from the south) has eleven churches, a gas station, grocery, library, café, K-12 school, and a senior center where the bachelor farmers
To Ardis, the woman who ran the center, I was exotic coming from the “lower states.” Just as exotic as my friends who came from Australia and South Africa. It never occurred to me to tell her I am
Citrus slices were nailed to trees in every front yard on one visit. They were to feed the orioles when they came through.
Jerry built a quarter acre kitsch garden densely populated with lawn ornaments bought from catalogues-mule, owl, boy fishing from a bridge, tiger and much more-arranged on a carpet of white
gravel. I couldn’t stop photographing this garden, though I never asked him about implied narratives in the placement. The question seemed too personal.
Kitsch gardens spread down the street. Showing up first around entrances of neighboring houses and then extending into front yards. Every year more houses had them. Some were shrines.
Crystal, Jerry’s 11-year-old granddaughter, showed me her collection of Breyer horses. She built dioramas for them, made drawings of them and wrote stories about them that she pinned on the wall.
You almost couldn’t get into her room. She came by it honestly.
Paul, Jerry’s 13-year-old grandson(?), showed me how to make a spud gun from PVC pipe and hairspray. We shot potatoes into the field next to his house.
Jerry’s family used to farm most of what is now Upsala. He doesn’t need to work but is an active kind of guy so he is the school janitor. His wife collects Keepsake figures, Swarovski crystals, figu-
rative pitchers, and commemorative liquor bottles. Their house is full. The living room has rows of shelving, multiple display cases and four recliners. I am astonished at my good fortune to have met
On long bike trips Glen takes a paperback. He throws away pages as he reads them.
The answer to “Are we almost there yet?” is “20 minutes.”
Every year my dog, Fred, accompanied me to Minnesota, riding in the back of the wagon. We stopped at the Des Moines Art Center for a quick look and to walk around. On the way back to I-35 I
bought an order of fries at McDonald’s, and as we continued north, I threw them back to him one at a time.
My dog, Zee, loves to sleep in the back of my car. Sometimes when she wakes she’s in St. Louis.
Every summer I bunked with the same women in northern Minnesota. We were the kind of friends that don’t talk or see each other all year then pickup where we left off. One year she took me to
Calumet. There is nothing so personal as seeing someone’s home. Calumet is one of a string of small towns on the iron range in upper Minnesota. It has a water tower, car dealership and small gro-
cery. The drugstore is in the next town over.
Her family owned the car dealership and her cousins worked the mine. They all fished.
On the walls of her parents’ home and in frames on the television were photographs of fish, dated and labeled by lake. No people just fish.
They took me to the lake with them. When we returned at midnight before we unloaded the car a newspaper was spread on the kitchen table, one fish placed horizontally and the other three propped
up on it, date and lake written out and it was photographed.
Then Crisco was melted and a plastic bag of saltines as crushed with a rolling and we cooked the best fish I ever ate.
In Upsala the prom is a big deal. One year the candidates for Prom King were really close friends, had been since toddlerhood. The school voted and the home ec teacher tallied. At the assembly she
announced the wrong friend as the winner. When she confessed to Lynda what had happened and how she was dreading having to take the crown away Lynda told her to ignore it. The boys didn’t
really care and it would stir up the parents. Obviously Lynda was an outsider.
The high school has fifth year reunions, 1998, 2003, 2008 celebrate together. It’s multigenerational. I would think your grandpa would kind of put the damper on your ability to hook up at the after
I just went to my reunion. The committee worked long and hard and really cared. It’s interesting to watch. I feel glad to have graduated unseen and unscathed.
One woman dropped out to have her baby in 9th grade. Her hard life showed.
Another had something wrong with her mouth, but not really, she had botoxed her forehead completely smooth and when she talked only her mouth moved so she looked like a muppet.
One man told me his first wife wasn’t a very good one. Good one what? She wasn’t a good wife? She wasn’t a good first wife?
There was a renegade committee that held its own events.
There was a fellow student who wanted an open mic so he could really tell us what he thought about us.
And there was the happy goofy guy who is now a state supreme court judge. Yup. We’re all shaking our heads too.
Southmoreland Park pieces of our past
In the corner of the park fell into the ocean
a man & a woman in tattered clothes in silent splashes
before crossing their respective streets Olathe, Kan.
In the streetlamps of Cleaver II the foxes have taken over
they look like they could be the subdivision
a prince & princess
in shambolic disguise their furry heads peek
on the eve of their secret departure out the windows of
the vacant duplex
the white noise of the crows
gathering Midsummer night
in the Wetlands in the community garden
the ambient windchimes Puck wears a pair
of sunset of overalls
in late October and plays the ukulele
a familiar breeze Raytown, Mo.
our guitar neck Here in my McDonald’s at the end of the world
of the woods the kids do down the slides
1-70 West, Eudora, Kan. into
All along the Purple Heart Highway ball
the haybales are bathed a
in golden light b
Bluffwoods Conservation Area s
interpretive hiking on Turkey Ridge
she asked what if there was a trail Brookside, Kansas City
you needed 3D glasses to see
The night after the storm
43rd & Warwick in the irrigated community
the faucet drip: Oak Street is blocked off
a reminder that these pipes by a fallen oak tree
Tomorrow its branches will be cut up
the organ chords rumble and hauled away but
through the petrified wood
floorboards Tonight its leaves
are still green
the screeching tea kettle
welcomes the first wave St. Joseph, Mo.
Through the dark cornfields
13th & Rhode Island near the old cemetery:
a bright crescent moon
I dreamed too big, she said
still stuck in her hometown
but the next year
she moved to the coast
clear all history
we lost the muscle memory
I live in a city of bridges, neighbourhoods Covered wooden ones, Madison County ones
Contrasts with connections this Kansas City Meant for being in, as well as over, shaded
Feels scattered at times, our times Noisy inside when hoof beats beat
Connected All these roads, tolls, trolls underneath
When I’m hungry, I cross a bridge Bridges between buildings downtown
Over a highway, looking down Corner office, to skyway to Subway
Hurtling masses of people, machines buzz Sandwich breaks, walk to lunch
Bridges over rivers, streams, bays Out of the rain, rarefied air, filtered, hush
First attempts at engineering Cross when you come to it, no worries
Before you needed a degree When you come to it, surprise, open eyes
To get from here to there What a view
Bridges we go under, over Where were you, before?
Fight over, bridges in songs Art from MidTown to downtown, tax time, baby
Maybe in our mouth, someday Comfort studio, acoustic cash, stash
Bridges we build, defend, seize Trash looks cool, that plastic bag
We burn them often, intentional? American Beauty, floating by
Nice when you can cross, back Her corporate suit looks enticing, heels
And forth, forward somewhere Feels like a different world over the bridge
Or just stand on it Cause, it is, cause and affect, yeah with an “a”
Some end it there with a leap Ponder crossing, shifts, lifts, stirrings
Or a dare, Billy Joe McCallister Out of the safe house, back by the outhouse
Trains, even planes at DFW cross Mouse traps, that bridge over Townsend’s Inlet
Obstacles, try crossing a river Raises in the middle, to draw in the tall masts
Swim it, or take the bridge To the Great Sound Bay docks
Change, going from comfort to uncertain A bridge temporarily out of service
There’s the road, on it with Jack Bridges as gates, gates to climb
Brooklyn, trees there you know Time to cross, I’m hungry.
We think about crossing, yet
Often we don’t even see them
Some, just there to give safe passage
Others invisible, trying to link us
Bridges take time, strong, fragile
Valuable landmarks, broken down forgotten
A Strange Coming To: A Kansas City Situation of an Earlier Time
Three separate fields of vision kaleidoscope simultaneously around before combining into one fuzzy view of
some haggard looking individuals sitting around me at the poker table. The echoing voice of the dealer slowly
honed into an understandable sentence while I attempting to read his lips mouthing the words, “Sir, it is your
turn”. / Remain calm, I thought. I looked around to gather information about where I was and what I was do-
ing. There is no question that I was at the casino playing poker, but what was I wearing? / A black cowboy hat
sat atop my head and silver - steer head - bolo tie adorned my pearl-buttoned collard shirt. I looked down at
a mound of jumbled and unorganized casino chips of an unknown provenance, as the dealer’s voice repeated
much louder, “Sir, it is your turn”. I quickly folded and slid my cards towards the center of the table, grabbed my
chips, and politely exited the room, dropping chips as I tipped my hat. / Somehow I cashed in over two hun-
dred dollars in chips that night, but as far as I knew, I did not have any money to begin with. These are questions
that can be answered later, I thought. Firstly I needed to sleep. I perused the parking lot looking for my truck,
hoping not to find it for that meant that I had in fact drove. Unfortunately, I knew myself too well and found it
parked across three spaces - front row - directly across from the casino entrance. At least I found a good spot!
The air heaved with humidity, where every movement you made brought a flood of sweat that left you feeling
sticky, grimy and looking like you just walked through a Midwestern cloudburst with your clothes on. This was
Kansas City in the summer, an afternoon day in July, like others in June and August where the temperatures rose
into the nineties and one hundreds, and hell could not be hotter.
This was a city filled with thugs, gamblers, loose women, gangsters, crooked cops and politicians—and a place
the good lord would never want to visit. Even at the best of times, it was a cesspool of life and a playground for
the devil that kept most of the good folk away and those who did to watch their backs for the knife someone
would put in it.
With my own back against the wall, leaning in the shade from around the side of the east entrance of the Last
Chance Tavern, a two bit joint owned by Fred Reneger, where booze, dames and games of chance could be had
as long as the cops weren’t around to shut the place down. Straddling Kansas and Missouri, the tavern lived a
charmed, profitable life through vice raids from both sides of the state line—they moving the gambling tables to
the Kansas or Missouri side depending on whether the cops from KCMO or KCKs showed.
I looked up at the cloudless, blue sky as I smoked down to the butt of my sixth cigarette then flicked it to the
ground with the others, and watched as the last strand of smoke wafted into the air.
Ready to enter the club, I moved from the wall. A solid step took me to the building’s corner where I stopped as a
46’ Dodge, 46’ Pontiac Streamliner and a patrol car pulled up and parked. Four men got out of the vehicles, two
cops from the patrol car, Detective Jacks of the K.C. Police from the Pontiac and a guy I didn’t recognize from the
other. By his demeanor and appearance, I fingered him as a detective or just some Joe from the Vice Squad along
for the ride. Jacks motioned the cops towards the club then preceded them into the joint with the other man
“This party just got interesting,” I pulled back muttering—where I took a moment to realize that the cops hadn’t
dropped by to socialize or to sell tickets to the Mayor’s ball. Someone had tipped them off to the club, but which
one of the pigeons had squealed?
Glancing around the corner of the building, into the nearly empty street, I pulled out my .45—a gun I’d brought
home from the war, through Sicily and up Italy until I took shrapnel and got a free ticket home. It had full clip
and a round in the chamber. I shoved it into my waistband then pulled out my .38 to find it loaded like my Colt.
I paused as I clasped it, held by old memories—good ones then bad ones. It was my dad’s gun. He held it when a
street punk shot him in the back then left him to die on a snowy December night in an alleyway near Troost and
five. So much for a Merry Christmas and good will to mankind when you’re waiting for your dad to come home
and he never does.
The City Dismantles the Memory
Winter: I experiment in ways to retreat from you. I test the city at each road, looking over my shoulder and
confirming my pace with my bones. The places we frequent follow me—approach me as I should be approaching
Spring: We erupt a phenomenal demand: "Cry for Kansas, cry for Iowa and Nebraska. Hold all applause for Wis-
consin." Buildings hang over our personal walls, their quiet inhabitants modified by the lonely swath of plains.
It's expansion goes unnoticed by the stars. Somewhere in the middle of this city, the highway reaches out over
the edge of a cliff and points down toward the floor, the very bottom of the place. I round the curve and hold my
breath as the city disappears around me and I convince myself I am above the ocean.
Summer: The city burned us up. The women fell asleep inveighing. The years are sneaking behind my back and
the wind is pushing the porches around.
The wild edges of our language are explicit in the distance. I see you at the parade holding an unlit sparkler. I see
you buying vegetables. I see you nightly, unfairly, while the man beside me shivers. From this far away I see what
you mean. The truck driver, the bottom feeder, the gallery owner, the restaurant. The photographs on the edges
of bluffs and oceans. The dare. The burden. The prompt. The amputee. Like Gogol's Nose, you wander the city
your own man, your own system, a part of me that I have cut away.
In the fevers of the mid-day summer the drive gets incredibly longer. We sweat out our hedonistic nights while
standing forgetfully beside the blinking lights. Car tires are sticking to the ground and we start to park on our
lawns. Even the tone of the radio changes—the host falls asleep mid program—likewise, our patience is burn-
ing out on the dash. Even without the heat, I sweat. I panic and excite in varying severity. I watch for you on the
opaque horizon—the mirage that never approaches.
Fall: Increasingly, it is useless to hang onto memory. I saw you in the aisle with the sleep aides. My eyes were
swollen and red, your angular jaw was an instrument of mockery. Years later, the city would defend my nostalgia
while I regret to attack it. The places, the checkpoints, the maps of ourselves we unfold on the dash, pushing out
the creases in frustration, saying: “This was not what I had planned.” Saying: “Oh, for God’s sake!” Saying: “No.”
Saying: “Put that fucking thing away, I’ll just turn around.”
This is where I change my memory: In the car you didn’t teach me to drive, in the place we never ate, in the
house I always felt welcome in, with the friends I found arousing, in a bed near the ground, on a couch too dark
and short. I will never change them back to what they were: Honda. Brunch. Hilltop. Shallow. Loft. Chartreuse.
In the bull I found a peacock. In the peacock I found a stone.
The lights behind the sign are groaning. The architect lies in the field in front of the building. The party moves
beneath the tension cables. Still unnoticed, the architect gathers the prairie grass around him, inhales the wet
smell of earth, hears the low buzz of bees in autumn. I watch uncomfortably from across the street. Musicians
dressed as wolves still croon inside the bar, their male comes to hang above me. The architect rolls with his arms
out and mouth open. I have to make a decision.
Winter: (When you saw her again, her hair was longer than you ever saw it before. Your favorite trait now ex-
tended passed your reaching hand. You saw it growing slowly up your block, through the yard preceding yours.
Through your own front yard. You watched it tangle in the rare city bushes, pulling itself free and growing to-
wards your neighbors. Her hair, which began several miles away, grew extensively toward you, and then suddenly
and permanently away.)
Spring: Somehow once a year has passed, one can start forgetting. The memories persisted by the city dilute and
the city itself becomes an image on paper. I watch you at the table, but not with any interest. I watch you at the
table, but not with any interest. I watch you at the table, but not with any interest. The sunset side of the city is
always imperceptibly brighter, contrary to the recent news report. I’m standing at the table laughing at the wood
grain. You believe my gestures are a sign of truce. We come together unharmed, unarmed, and silent. In the city
we try and avoid each other, but the city orbits unaided around and the places between us are shrinking. When
the last decrepit memory of you is eaten up by flies, every cloud above the city will break apart and let in the light
at my summons.
Americans inherited their constellations from the explorers, who learned the
night sky from the Greeks before them, and the Egyptians before them. Like them
we look for patterns in clusters; our eyes light on the stars and map the sky
according to its brightest pinpoints. Here is Ursa Major, here Orion, and here are
the Pleiades, the seven sisters. But this is only one way of looking at it; some
cultures of the southern equator look for patterns in darkness. They invert the sky,
they see character-rich tableaux in the negative space: here is the emu, here is
the coal sack, so on and so forth. They evoke that which is not there.
Any map I might here sketch of my hometown would be ambiguous in the
same way, more dark than light. I think this is an adaptation unique to the
Midwestern imagination: the ability to see beauty in a void. Around fifteen or
sixteen years old you fall in love with big open spaces, you stay up late and you
do drugs and these nights stay with you the rest of your life, causing your heart to
leap at the sight of an empty parking structure or a four-lane highway. Even the
cars you drove and the cars your friends drove, fogged-up, junked-out beasts that
whined and whinnied like sick dogs, you love and you love them like Bo Diddley or
Chuck Berry loved Cadillacs: shamelessly.
Seen from above, the Midwest is a shapeless constellation, crooked streets
and cul-de-sacs tracing dim outlines outward. Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio,
Nebraska, etc.: these are wallflower states, states divested of any certain identity
and thus big, impressionable, open to interpretation. Those that live here love it
like a kid loves their parents, unconditionally, with moments of resentment and
embarassment, angered resolutions to sever all ties, but unconditionally,
inevitably. Even those among us who grew up in the eighties, at the summit of
bad taste known among conservatives as the end of history, cannot help but love
what we know. A parking structure, a skywalk, a drugstore at night glowing from
the inside out like a museum after hours, all these things loom large in the
imagination, like medieval castles in black forests.
In the absence of a thousand year old culture, in a city bereft of ocean,
mountain, or desert, the heart stirs at the strangest things. Before they took him
off the air Walt Bodine liked to lean in close to the mic and at the mention of every
failed restaurant, gas station, or corner store he would crackle to life. “Oh,” he
would intone with the sadness of someone far from home, “I remember Wimpy’s.”
So, too, do I make maps of the city that superimpose past and present: this was
once a Wimpy’s, this is now a Price Chopper, here is Einstein Bros., formerly
Bagel & Bagel, formerly Bagel Bros., where as a young girl I saw the mayor,
waiting for his schmear. I know how Walt feels; I feel the same way. I am
homesick in my own hometown, I miss it all dearly.
The longer I live here the more layered the city becomes, stratified like cut
rock, layers of erosion, upheaval, sheared by violent movements and thrust into
high relief. Those who complain about a deficit of natural beauty have never
known anything worth remembering. I fell in love by a dancing fountain and every
song sang for me, even the awful pop songs, especially the awful pop songs. In
love and out of luck; the height, width, and depth of this city measured by where I
first met you, where I kissed you, where I last talked to you. Small town charms
disappear quickly when you are caught in a psychic tailspin. It is a city
circumscribed by memory, impressionistic, equal parts light and shadow.
Everything new reminds me of something old, every new face a composite of
lost loves, dead friends, familiar forms forgotten. I superimpose again: here you
are, and there you were. There you are in passing or in profile, but not really, not
at all. Everyone here builds on shifting sands, and I cannot love anything without
fearing its disappearance. Sometimes I feel like I am charting my course along an
unlit sky, no known coordinates in sight by which to navigate. Other times I am
seized by sadness, sudden as a sneeze, immobilized midday by everything I
knew once and not any more. So it goes; I empty the sky, I start from scratch. I
learned early to read the sky at night. I have not yet seen the emu, I have never
seen a coal sack, I’m trying hard to see in the dark. Like all of us I am trying hard
to make something out of nothing.
MARY JANE RILEY
Back in the 1940s my grandmother would take us for streetcar rides on hot summer days. From Kansas
City, Kansas, my grandmother, brother and I would get on the streetcar and go through the 8th street
tunnel. We then would ride through the city until we got to Swope Park. However, we wouldn’t ever
get off in Missouri. Rather, there was a turn around, and we would stay and sit in the streetcar until it
would take us back home to Kansas. Nothing really exciting, but it is a memory I will never forget.
KANSAS DRIVE LOG
January 4, 2011
Old houses, crumbled barns, oil pumps in yellow fields,
clustered puffs of evergreen bushes,
rolls of hay, stark hedgerows,
one-lane bridges catching sideways sunlight,
dusty gravel lanes, birds of prey on point,
cows munching on frozen grass,
partially frozen ponds with scales of ice,
and flocks of birds sitting low upon the scales,
connected with their ancient reptile heritage.
Cold, rusty railroad tracks, antique windmills,
dogs giving chase.
Lean-tos leaning past.
Trail of dust, bent fence posts, feeding troughs,
tin whistles, frosty sod, scent of burning hickory.
Access roads and abscess trails. Fallow fields and future tallow.
Talons ready, roundabout in the middle of nowhere.
Icy pond froth, “shoulder work ahead.”
Conical conifers, frigid aquifers.
“Keep right except to pass.”
Lines of runoff erosion down man-made hillsides.
Partially-submerged boulders, and snake village ghost-towns.
Pavement smeared with deer and post-deer.
Obstacle course of plastic chairs at highway speeds.
Truck behind me doesn't miss.
A kissed mist of shattered chair, disintegrating into the air
as their owner watches from the side of the road,
waiting to pick them up after the traffic passes.
Music from airwaves bleeding into metal rod and circuitry.
Conduction / induction / reduction.
Yard covered in feeding birds that sound like
a combination of squealing brakes and steaming miasma.
January 11, 2011
Peaks and crests of over-blown snow,
snow blown over, and over.
Shrill wind seeps leaky past window seals,
ruffling past, roiling at highway speeds.
What birds there are out here this morning
are frozen into place, floating motionless on air currents,
or flapping extra vigorously,
so as to mitigate icing-over of the wings.
Transporting blues across county lines,
gotta lower my head and just drive, make no eye contact,
the birds may notice my reportage.
Fingertips split open with annoying pain.
Body tired, back tense . . . and lower.
Need to stretch out under covers, unencumbered by clothing,
unencumbered by divisions.
Austere tree pantomime in stark fields of snow-cover
with only golden dormant grasses protruding.
Rusty corrugated shed roofs hold geometric slabs of untouched snow.
Sideways looker lady driving by, concerned.
It's ok, these blues are strapped down. Safety first.
Miniature forest casts long striations across my brainwave patterns.
Not quite to the place where we wave to one another passing in the road.
Animal tracks and all-terrain vehicles, lines weaving, woven.
Closed-circuit crop circles leaving messages for those
not too far above or to the side.
Residual latent referential evocation
of antique farm implements parked at field edge.
Dogs giving unwise chase, running out in front of me,
nearly run over. Nice survival instincts. How are you going to protect
your owners if you run out in front of a passing vehicle?
Think about balance, man.
I'm from here, but I'm not from right here. I've been here a million times
besides the three or four in real life.
Misread crossroad signs as "287th and Walrus."
Shamble village of the atomic model. Mostly space between. Intervals.
Yellow house, red water pump handle.
Back to yellow dotted lines, red barns and shutters,
rusty access gate.
Frosted icing on a giant, golden grain-based pillow roll.
Gold brown white. Gold brown white. Touches of green.
Man-made orange. Man-made blue, sky house. Pale yellow house.
Mild green forest house.
"Keep Kansas clean."
Stone walls terraced with trees within. Long-abandoned foundation
only now visible with their top edges lined with snow,
coal cars stopped below on cold tracks winding under the highway
and slinking through the trees along the river.
These views always hold their modest power to intrigue,
but even more so when elicited by another.
Brush-pile fire sends smoke signals saying that the sky has gone away.
But only right here.
Superliminal sublingual sublet
diverting constant internal chatter into
trickling spigot set open enough to flow freely,
just the right amount of pressure.
No pipe freeze.
"California, Santa Fe, and Oregon Trails crossed here."
And here. And here.
Contemplation of the historical residue superimposed
over the consciousness of the current driver
in the act of driving.
March 7, 2011
Another gray Kansas drive. These trips south-westerly always elicit enhanced wordflow. Longer stretches of
uninterrupted driving, and reminders of the kind of space from which I came.
“Keep right unless passing.”
Brown sticks, golden crunchy stems,
dry leaves of grass drained of their color,
all longing to flourish again,
to re-live the chlorophyll dream,
sunlight into green.
Even the evergreens are faded.
“Be prepared to stop.”
Crop tree groves lay dormant,
pointing spikey limbs upward,
Rubber ball caught in storm drain gutter
with snakey molted tire rubber,
like a mangled alligator reaching for the ball,
which is just barely too large to fit down the opening,
escaping into the drain system.
Squeezing from the aching sponge . . .
poetry, art, love, grandeur,
letting it drip down hands and arms
in celebratory revelry,
swimming in the beautiful waves of
the pangs of incompletion,
needing more of it.
Landscape half full of emptiness,
half empty of wanting, waiting,
diligently doing that which is natural,
with silent, unthinking hope
for that which comes next.
11th & Main - Harzfeld’s was known for its beautiful windown displyas at Christmas. In 1951, at the corner windows on 11th & Main
streets, there was a spectacular display of luxury furs. In the night, a fews days before the holiday, someone broke two plate-glass win-
dows and made off with all the furs. The thieves were never apprehended.
Wolferman’s. A fantastic bakery and eating place—was where I ate lunch all through my “growing up years” with
my Dad when he worked at Harzfeld’s.