Friday, August 31, 2012

The Sunken Garden


The Sunken Garden
Flawed Fiction
Heartland Communique
Prairie Noir
The Changing Light Over Kansas
Traveling Through Darkness
Revisiting the Plains
Indian Arrowheads
Neosho Street
If I Could Be Like 
William Stafford
Pause a Moment
History of a Town

The Sunken Garden—

“in this pool forms
the model of our land,
a lonely one”
—William Stafford
“Lake Chelan,”
Stories that Could Be True

I’m still sinking down into it—down deeper and deeper into my dark genealogy. My Family Tree grows—oozes its way down from Twelfth Avenue to the ‘30s Cottonwood River Bridge. East & west along Sixth Avenue—from the old art deco Civic Auditorium dive to the abandoned ruins of the old Highway 50 Drive-In.

Even though Margaret Hamilton the Wicked Witch of the West—is still flying high overhead with her squalid squadrons of jet-black bat-monkeys in tow. Bitching and fussing about this & that—cruising Peter Pan Park for any Lost Boys. Meanwhile here I am on Monkey Island—still feeling blue as usual. I’ve got those old Midwestern noir blues just awfully bad—they seem to plague me to no end, my dears.

Down thru campus past the Sunken Garden—slowly cruising frat boys on the prowl. Feeling them ooze like runny snot—through my varicose veins like some dark deep sinister River Styx. So moody and sullen—like all those Kansas City boys can be.

Flawed Fiction

“They call it regional,
this relevance”—
—William Stafford
“Stories that Could
Be True,” New and
Collected Poems

We tried to do our best—all of us gay Midwestern Regionalists. Practicing the art of shunning—shamelessly shunning all the horrors of life. Through Literature, my dears—detailing the flawed beauty of FFA boys. Flawed beauty they say—is better than nothing, honey. Since the perfect thing—well, you & I know it just simply doesn’t exist…

How bourgeois of me—to suppress that part of it. Flawed beauty being so tres imperfect—and yet, my dears, so exquisitely and hauntingly desired. For me it was simply—a Problem of Flawed Fiction. I knew the Fly-Over State and Tallgrass Prairie had no Narrative for me that’s for sure.

How sordid the merest stain—of a spilled coffee cup could make me cringe in horror and disgust. Why? Because I saw how the Coffee Stain—was actually the Fatal blot that actually was me. I had the cursed Inner Stain that wouldn’t go away—like Hawthorne’s  Scarlet Letter turned Lavender just for me.

The Sunflower State and Tallgrass Prairie knew me—knew me better than I knew myself. Knew me like Mommy Dearest knew me—letting me have what I desperately desired. Coat-hangers!!! Coat-hangers!!! How I loved Coat-Hanger Time—when Mommy Dearest beat the shit outta me.

How many times trying so hard—Mommy Dearest would beat me severely with my favorite Coat-Hangers!!! To beat some sense into me about—the awful tacky Birds and the Bees!!! Insisting I’d stay in the Closet—just for her!!! A small-town scandal would just be awful—what would all the VFW Ladies say if I got caught? The cops finding out her son was a Flaming Fag—caught red-handed there in Peter Pan Park?

It was inevitable, of course—despite Mommy Dearest’s harangues and threats That I’d go ahead and do what she did—becoming the town whore in the bars every night. Being gay in Kansas wasn’t easy—but what else was there to do in uptight gossipy Emporia? God’s little Peyton Place—out there on the Prairie? Sweet little Bible Belt Cow-Town—my queer cocksucking homo Hometown?

Heartland Communiqué


“Hello, is Mother
at home?”
—William Stafford
“The Farm and the Great
Plains,” The Darkness
Around Us Is Deep

Of course, you’re not home—you’re dead and so are all the other dear ones who once were so intimate and dishy to me. You queered the Queen in me—you gave me the Authorial queer quintessence of Never Neverland.

It was the ultimate Narrative—I needed so badly. At least that’s what Hollywood said—at the local Granada Bijou. I believed everything—up there on the Silver Screen. Much more than I ever believed—in books or what boring teachers had to say.

Listening to the Supremes—chiding me with “Shame, Shame, Shame!!!” Watching Elvis the Pelvis smirk his way through Las Vegas—wiggling his ducktail greaser Ass for all the screamy ladies. Along with lovely bejeweled Madame Liberace with her grinning, leering face. Sitting there in the quiet Bijou balcony—the Night life meant more to me than anything dreary Daytime could offer.

I had this art deco photo—a NYC overhead snapshot. The Chrysler Building gargoyles—up there all looming high above. Glaring down at the rushing ants and tiny peons down there on Eastside Manhattan. I compared that to me there in Kansas—a satellite pic looking down now of my gay boyhood. So very high way up there—above the Fly-Over State of Never Neverland.

Prairie Noir

“on a relief map”
—William Stafford, 
“Sioux Haiku,” The 
Darkness Around Us Is Deep

Prairie noir sidewalks—chalky crinoid shells and criminal oozing prehistoric monsters. Beneath my bare feet—Prairie noir was like that. Moody in the moonlight—like limestone fence-posts standing gaunt and alone…

Way out there in the—Middle of Kansas Nowhere. In those stoic Flint Hills—beneath the stoic sky. The old sidewalks—slabs of limestone. Each one different and cracked and ancient… After Sat night movies—walking back home from the Granada or the Strand. Things got scary sometimes… not exactly a Staircase to Heaven.

Pale Paleozoic denizens—still lurking in those dead
deep limestone sidewalks. Once fetid lagoons—full of scary Mosasaurs with lots of teeth. Nightmare creatures of some vast fetid Inland Sea—crumbling embankments still writhing with wormy death along the hills of Emporia.

My primal prairie fear—the limestone ruins liquidizing back into life once again. Back into Life of the Living Dead—Hometown showcase for all the Halloween movies. But more than that—Prairie Noir itself running through town in its River of Darkness. Flowing down  deeper and deeper—outta the Sunken Garden…

All the way down abandoned Commercial Street—down past busy old ratty Sixth Avenue. Past the old Santa Fe tracks to—Soden’s Grove & the Cottonwood Bridge. Down past Bird Bridge there in the homicidal country Darkness—where even the sunlight got darker and darker. Deeper and darker than the Darkness of Noir winter nights…

It’s still deep inside me—that Prairie Noir darkness
Flowing in my blood & through my limestone veins. I don’t usually say this—or talk about it much. Except maybe sometimes—when I can't be stoic and silent anymore like the rest of them…

Talking about it's one thing—but feeling it in your feet, walking the limestone sidewalks, looking at the limestone foundations, sensing all the limestone  basements and knowing all the crumbling curbs is something else. Prairie noir darkness—lurking in all the old churches and buildings and courthouses and downtown Kansas architecture…

Even winter sunlight—coming down through my stained-glass windows is darker than blackest octopus ink. Darker than dead of night—I’m deep in darkness. Especially way out here faraway—far from the West Coast millions. Way back in time—miles and miles deep into prehistoric present Kansas… 

The Changing Light Over Kansas

“each day—
a treasured unimportance”
—William Stafford, “The
Rescued Year,” Rescuing
Some Years in Kansas

There’s something about it—the way the winter prairie light comes down thru the windows and crawls across the Persian carpet floor. I remember sitting in it—moving the antique high-back rocking chair with it as it moved slowly across the floor…

Letting the warmth of it—seep and soak into me as
as I read a book back then in those long afternoons of sad Emporia sunlight. Kansas winter sunlight—it’s different than summer sunshine filtering down thru Elm-tree boulevards of cool shade… 

Winter sunlight—brings out the tans and golds of the sleeping front lawns and limestone sidewalks. The old bumpy sidewalks—limestone foundations of old courthouses and churches and small town college campuses…

Sitting there the front room—there on Constitution Street where my grandparents retired and then gave it to me. Today faraway now—here on the West Coast where Seattle winter light isn’t like the bright  light that was Kansas. An Emporia Gazette photo—winter light shinning down on a hardwood floor moving slowly across a Persian carpet…

Traveling Through Darkness

“In the late night…”
—William Stafford, “Through
the Dark Night,” The Darkness
Around Us Is Deep

Traveling thru the darkness—the dead are calm & stoic. They know all about Literature and Poetry—since the Land of Logos is their grave. They live in our dreams—no wonder we don’t want to remember them and where they come from. They’re much to grim and stoic for us—down there in the womb we call Mother Earth

Time to be Progeny for a little bit—choosing to be ignorant of it. The secret often concealed from each generation. Languishing in the local Zeitgeist—time enough to pay for the magic ride of the mise-en-scene moment. Choosing to travel back in time—the Santa Fe Super Chief zooming me and Harper Lee back deep into the Heart of Kansas Darkness

Revisiting The Plains

“That winter when this
thought came…”
—William Stafford, “Living
on the Plains,” The Darkness
Around Us Is Deep

That winter I bought—an RV and a used trailer. I had the dealer drive it out to where I wanted it to be. It was just Land now like it used to be—before all my relatives showed up. All the buildings were gone—except for the dirt road and the hill and ravine that were still there…

That’s all I really needed—I wanted to rescue it. My memory of what it was like back then… It didn’t take much—I wanted to recuperate in the Moment of being once again a Kansas Chicken Little.

I wanted to rescue it—the way the snow covered
everything after the divorce. When my parents broke-up—dumping us boys with our grandparents. Way up there in the primitive wilds—Republic County southwest of Bellville, Kansas.

Dumped somewhere wild—up there near Concordia by my estranged parents. The first time by our estranged redhead mother—who wanted a divorce. Her husband in Korea—her left to herself there in Emporia. Picked up by relatives—Valentine Day 1954 not the best birthday for my little brother and me…

Suddenly finding ourselves—in Republic County up by the Nebraska Border all because of the Korean War. The War wrecked it all—the marriage, the military attaché assignment in Tokyo, the whole ball of wax…

There’s nothing more bleak—nothing more lonely than to be an Exile suddenly in the Kansas High Plains… The ghost of Prairie schooners—then the summers south of Belleville. Getting the feel of the Great Westering Experience

I wasn’t in any hurry—slowly spring came and went. Then summer came and I just did my usual thing. All I needed was time—a couple of mulberry trees and a hammock to take me back to those summer Ace paperback worlds…

I read the same books I read back then—all the juvenile sci-fi classics. Especially the trashy pulp fiction ones I didn’t understand back then… I drove over to Mankato—to see Mark and my cousins who thought I was crazy… staying out there alone…

Rescuing the past—it takes time to find it again. But I was in no hurry—there was plenty of time. Each inconsequential moment was important again—because each moment was the reason I was back  there again…

Indian Arrowheads


“Inside — soot from
a cold fire, powder
of bones, a piece
of ceremonial”
—William Stafford
“The Indian Cave
Jerry Ramsey Found”
Why the Sun Comes Up

Richard Stauffer—and James Swint picked me up one
early Sat morning. Arrowhead-hunting—southeast of town where I’d never been before back then. It was wet & cold—both of them were amateur archeologists back then there in Kansas. The hunting was good—and there were these weird gothic hills that stuck up out of nowhere…

They took me to see—this old man who lived in a huge stone mansion who was a collector too… I stood in this room—with glass-cabinets full of Osage Indian points plus lotsa prairie death… We stayed overnight—the timber had a life all its own then us three getting up in the morning…

Down this river trail—old limestone fence-posts still standing gaunt and scarred by barbed-wire… It was very scary—for a sophomore kid like me a small-town naïve gawker type… A cold Indian dawn—the Mound People still all around and not a sound anywhere except the morning fog on cat’s feet.

Neosho Street

“how the world
can’t keep up with
our dreams…”
—William Stafford, “Living
on the Plains,” The Darkness
Around Us Is Deep

There are those midwestern Machiavellian moments—when the world leans in on you. When you’re young and don’t understand the human heart yet—and how it breaks so easily. When the Love that created you—suddenly doesn’t exist anymore. And your Mother has a couple of black eyes for telling Lies… When your father beats her up—really bad there in that duplex on Neosho Street because she’d been lonely and wanted out of a crummy marriage. Sick of being married to him—hating the military life and wanting to try again to be happy while she was still young. Twelve years was enough—three kids later and she’d had it with her marriage of convenience gone sour. Her parents had worried that—she’d be like her mother who’d given her up at the Willows Home for Unwed Mothers. Surely an early marriage—and kids would tie her down to a nice family life of decency and responsibility. It lasted beyond the—usual normal Seven Year Itch but then it was time for a change.

If I Could Be Like

William Stafford

"I'd rather slime along
than be heroic..."
—William Stafford,
"If I Could Be Like
Wallace Stevens,"
The Darkness Around
Us Is Deep

“Turn into an—
Octopus with words”—

“Eight arms reaching—
Out into the Darkness”

“The inky Darkness—
That wants to be understood”

“All your suckered fingers—
Reaching out into it”

“I want you to know—
You can tell it to me”

“Try not to be so—
Mock heroic, just be real”

“Pride gets in your way—
It’s not easy being gay”

“Whitmanesque rants—
Skip the tan-faced boyz”

“Be more stoic & gothic—
America is that way, kid”

“Take your time—
Reinvent it as you go along”

Pause a Moment


“Your job is to find what
the world is trying to be…”
—William Stafford
The Darkness
Around Us Is Deep

Pausing a moment—and then putting down the cup of coffee. Listening to what Emporia was trying to say to me. On the other hand—turning away and pretending to know more it than it did. Even though I was probably wrong. I know nothing it said—except this and it’s totally unique to you… What more could it say—than what it was saying to me. Sitting there listening—to  the quiet that invites me to turn my face away from myself… Waiting for the moment—the timing is everything… When something in the night speaks to you. It will touch you—from that Dark Place that is the gift inside you down deep. I can only say this once it said—but then even once still's not enough because it happens only once. There’s this detour—this excursion and evasion of oneself. That poets have to do—to know themselves.

History of a Town


“…for whom history was
walking through dead grass,
and the main things that
happened were miles and
the time of day…”
—William Stafford,
“Prairie Town,” Rescuing
Some Years in Kansas

Jiving the Elders—it doesn’t work anymore. They know too much about living in Kansas. Especially those two lonely men—my two stoic gaunt gothic grandfathers who I once knew back then. Walter the calm cool Santa Fe man—working down there at the switching yard on the old railroad tracks. Later John Deere dealer of combines, tractors and farm equipment. Long term County Commissioner—smoking cigars and making deals for lucrative road and bridge contracts. Down on Sixth Avenue—in the old gothic Lyon County Courthouse. With all the Big Shots and small-town smoothie wheeler-dealers. Until one day—he had a heart-attack at the Poker Table in that old country courthouse. From then on—a recluse just sitting out there in his empty office alone out there on his crumbing Thirties Depression place on Old Highway 50. He didn’t go to church anymore—not with his wife Jenny or me & my brother. No need anymore—to keep up the façade of being an important Emporia King Fish. Jenny Larkin—G. A. R Queen & Civil War daughter with her Union Army Family past. Dark evenings—her quiet RFD garden full of snap-dragons, petunias, tulips and twilight wisteria… My grandmothers—the Movers & Shakers… The ones who kept both Families going… Jenny down south in Lyon County—Theresa up North in Republic County. Teacher & County Commissioner Schools.Natural-born Women Leaders—Eleanor Roosevelt types. Endeared to how many generations of children—in all those one room school houses in the country. All of it gone now—including her position. While Arthur like Walter—both moody withdrawn Gothic Americana Kansas Republicans… Done in by the Great Depression—the droughts, the sandstorms, the usual Thirties Nightmare stuff… They’d given up—disillusioned, letting go. Leaving their wives to do all the heavy lifting… It took Determination—to keep those families and homes going that’s for sure… And there I was—supposedly the one to seal my parent’s marriage. A fourth generation grandson of the Border—just another Whitmanesque tan-faced boy of the plains. Young enough then—to know I knew nothing back then other than listening to the Doodlebug passing by down there on the Santa Fe tracks. Its lonely whistle calling out to me west of Emporia—where was it going, where was I going too? Elm-shaded streets—Peter Pan Park and growing up back then in the Eisenhower ‘50s. No time to jive them anymore now though—the Elders of Emporia they know too much about me and I still know nothing at all.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mary White


"They thought death was worth it, 
but I have a self to recover, a queen. 
Is she dead, is she sleeping?"
—Sylvia Plath, Ariel

Triple Goddess

Returning triumphantly from Wellesley to the College of Emporia—Mary White soon becomes the terror of staid departmental meetings. She's a triple threat— poetess, priestess and prairie goddess. "It's that smart-alecky daughter of William Allen White again, that awful uppity triple goddess of the prairie," they’d say. "She's come back to Emporia to haunt us, riding fast up Commercial Street, toward the Sunken Garden in that sleek black Cadillac hearse of hers again."

Mary White

She resembles her grandfather, Dr. Allen White, more than she does her father. She's five foot three and doesn't like it. She wants to be tall as her gangly brother, William Lindsay, that's the chip on her shoulder. She sways like Dr. White, bending not at her hips but with her back. The physical habits, the same bubbling humor, the same impish Kansas mischievousness—the editor of The Emporia Gazette doesn't understand it. Such an odd spiritual resemblance—between grandfather and young tomboy granddaughter. Vivid, sad, generally eerie coincidences—they puzzle the aging Republican plutocrat. Little things that Mary says and does are hooks in his memory, reminding him subconsciously of his own father.

Young Mary White

Young Mary White lies nude on a baroque couch upholstered in red velvet. How fashionable monde the red couch with its prim bric-a-brac within the sandstone-red mansion's green-tessellated boudoir. An intricate wilderness of Rousseauesque green surrounds the young girl—monstrous lilies, heart-shaped ferns, huge catalpa leaves. She has luminous eyes that glow through the yellow, silk screens of the moon. Her flat stomach is iconic against the leaves and gold lilies flattened to paper behind her. Opals and other frills decorate the dark folds of her millefleurs tapestries. Snakes, snake charmers and beryl tigers make their padded way past the decadent couch, she marvels at the many shades of green. Sad moon-lilies nod their heads around the red couch in a sea of prairie green. Young Mary White poses there, feeding our eyes with real redness, true redness. On her couch, under the moon, in the center of all that Kansas gold, green and lilies.

Strange Lovers

When Mary White smiles, she resembles the moon. My first, impression—something beautiful but annihilating. Both Mary White and the moon, such prairie femmes fatales, her beautiful O-mouth, so short-fused in bed. Making Emporia a mausoleum of the Kansas night—ghostly, haunting, gothic. She turns everything into pale white moonlight, and those long stony silences of hers there inside the tombstone shadows of Maplewood. When we get bored, we play cards long into the night. I'm the jaded, aging Jack of Diamonds—she's the beautiful, forever young Queen of Spades. Strange lovers, but not really. More like Bridge or Tarot—more like Mystic Pinochle.

Yearbook Riddle

Mary White's the riddle of my high school yearbook—my homecoming queen in Emporia pantheonic drag. She’s the prairie goddess—of our Midwest Athens. She’s bareback-riding on her sleek, fast pony—cutting across Commercial Street toward campus. 

Green ivy hangs down from the ivory columns—as she rides past the William Allen White Library. She's the magical loaf of bread that's suppose to feed all of us Emporia multitudes—she's the newly-minted tons of slippery fish, meant to feed the hungry mouths of our small spectral Kansas town.

Mary White has always been my Anima figure—my Kansas tomboy goddess. My Peter Pan—the Prairie Priestess of my imagination, I feel her in my subconscious here and now. Once you board her Doodlebug at night—there's no getting off.

A Ticket Home

The bees are all women—lovely midwest lesbians with their busy royal lady. They hold hands in a séance, their humming a cradle of warmth and tears. Miss Kram and Miss Hillerman are eternal lovers, they’ve known each other long before I was born. They welcome me back to their palace of Ancient Bee Words and Lost Knowledge. Miss Eastman, Miss Rice, Miss Howard, Miss Langley and Miss Rowe—they're all sleeping there together in the Royal Bed. Dreaming during the long winters, dreaming of pale gladioli in the Kansas spring. They've sent me an urgent message—and a ticket back home.


The train is killing time—time is a Silver streak. The tall white grain elevators of Emporia are next, gilded on the fat haunches of a hot midwest sunrise. Tons of gold are embalmed in the ancient, silent towers—temple granaries of golden Kansas wheat. "How's this, how's this?" I say, jumping off the tallest one, bashing my brains out on the Santa Fe tracks far down below. Like Plato's afterbirth, I'm eaten up by starving rats and mice. Their little round eyes so busy, blank, silent. No grimaces at the sight of my poor counterfeit smile. My ogling eyeball hanging over the edge of an oily railroad tie—bloodshot, still staring at this midwest terminus of things. My mind suddenly a suitcase thrown open for all to see. A rumpled suit, a pocket of loose change. A ticket to nowhere, a broken mirror. No arms anymore to brush aside the buzzing flies. They think they're in a net of eternity—but they're roped into the end just like me.

The Bee Meeting

Who are these people at the train station to meet me? They're the Emporians—the Minister, the Real Estate Czar, the Radio Announcer, the agents for the Queen Bee. I'm nude, why didn't anyone tell me to wear clothes? I'm as light as cottonwood silk floating over the Santa Fe Railroad Station. It’s burned down now—but still real in my dreams.

Who's the real estate person—the one in blue with a big bow tie? It’s K. B. Thomas—he knows where the beehives are, honey runs from his nose. His voice is changing, he's a drone again. 

They lead me through fields of wheat, fanning open the sacred way with winnowing fans and magic wands. The little golden grains will someday be edible like me? They lead me through a grove of elm trees, thick with the smell of cicadas in heat. 

We meet the surgeon of bees, shiny in his gloves, suit and green helmet. Is it the banker, the grocer, the postman, anybody I know? It’s Miss Reeble—the dyke who runs the Tombstone Store. 

The mind of the hive is geometric, rooted in a town that hurts me. I've been running away forever, only to return here once again. Even an outsider like me—do I still count in the local beehive scheme of things?

The little Kansas town is searching for a new Queen Bee—the old one is about to die. A curtain of wax separates me from the other brides, the town folk have called us back for a meeting of bees. I'm gullible as a sunflower in August, bending my head down beneath the flaming Kansas sun. 

I'm a magician's daughter—hiding in secret chambers of Red State brooderies. They've sealed us in snug brood cells, etherized like tiny little queens yet to be.

Arrival of the Bee Box

Whose long white boxes are those in the cottonwood grove—shaped like coffins built for gone midgets? I'm just a queen bee baby, humming inside a blitz of busy wings and sweet tears. It's dark inside this ancient lesbian mansion, there are no windows left anymore. Long African fingers swarm over my nude body—black, busy, sexually exciting. 

It's dark in here, they sing me soothing lullabies of love. It's unintelligible yet reassuring, this midwestern town of curious, stoic Emporians. The town is a box of young farmboys, angrily clambering for money. They turn me on, even though the FFA marriage is temporary. I’m in moonlight drag and funeral veils, the long Elms days are numbered. I count out slowly the cicada-inspired evenings that remain—going, going, gone.


I have a self to recover—a Queen Bee. Is she dead, is she sleeping? Where has she been all these years, hiding in some high school yearbook? Her wings are old Emporia Gazette clippings, she's flying high over the Broadview Hotel. 

Emporia is a vast midwest mausoleum—a House of Edgar Lee Masters Wax. Beekeepers with wrists of meadow larks tend to new honeycombs, overflowing with oozing gold. Honey enamels the wormy mahogany, the Queen Bee is as old as a fossil. I stand before her, I'm so very nude and speechless. 

Honey-drug running like snot from my nose, inside her vast palace of silence. Around her industrious Isis virgins scurry, lost in their eternal first-person present-tense monologues. The world is a big continuous honey-machine, molding its fragrant lips to my eyes. I'm her new High Heels, instead of just a pair of loafers. Her mind turns me on, her vast wax museum—a lovely complicated citadel of soft, erotic stings.

The Swarm

See? These are the chess people I'm playing with—midwestern figurines of ivory and rosewood. The chessboard is rotting, ancient Flint Hills teak and aging limestone fence-posts, the dome of Topeka’s capitol building rims John Brown’s crown. 

Grand Army of the Republic old queens of Kansas— squirm in the Cottonwood’s rich alluvial mud, hooves of young Peter Pan paw the prairie air. Mexican cardinals & bishops south of the Santa Fe tracks—saying hush!!! while cute Lopez stays home mass after mass.

See? The two Rooks of Reeble’s North and South— bestriding the known Commercial Street world. And the local pawns, sleek and young—zooming up and down busy Sixth Avenue in swarms of new Japanese pickups. And the drone king, my dear—where did William Allen White reside? In the big red mansion there on Exchange Street? The Temple that's so strange and gothic, haunted by the ghost of Mary White?

Mary White

Over her body the clouds of Kansas slide, high up there on this icy gray winter afternoon. Peter Pan Lake is a little flat today, strange swans with creamy reflections float on the glass. All cool, all blue the sky over the crisp tans of Emporia's sunny December. 

The monkey house is empty, the empty trees are bribing the wind. Mary White's a relic now, sleeping in a cabinet full of old Emporia Gazette clippings. Her father surveys the lake today, his bronze bust covered with years and years of ancient, oozing, midwest bird-shit. 

William Allen White was her Gulliver and the rest of us were the little people who conversed in the valley of his fingers. The big red house of Colorado sandstone on Exchange Street, always filled with classical music and laughter. Mary White was to have been our new Queen Bee, but she snapped her neck horseback riding one day up by the college.

Among the Narcissi

If Mary White had lived long enough to be an octogenarian, well, she'd probably be standing with me here now on this cold March day among the narcissi. 

But she never recuperated from being a goddess, her broken teenage heart and that awful literary thing of silence. I bow before the young narcissi of Emporia, even though my stitches hurt. I walk where Mary White once walked, recuperating like Marlene Dietrich in my tuxedo for perhaps the last time. 

There's a cabaret quality to it, a strange Torch Song formality. Nodding to the narcissi, they love the attention. They thrive on it, they like to show off in the glorious morning. "I'm a Sun flower!" they say, excited by their first downhill run. Sleek as young sailors with blue pea jackets, on the deck of a fast ship.

Prairie Goddess (1921)

It's not a plain box, it's a sarcophagus of alabaster, ivory and droning cicadas. She's Ishtar, young lioness, buried here. Through turquoise eyes, she stares up at me. Coiled ivory claws of Isis and Eagles brace the granite ceiling, vast star-distances separate her and me. It's hard to imagine these dumb jewels and gold in-lays once graced the imperial forehead of her grandmother, grandfather.

And now the Mirrors cloud over with grief, the flowers and sheets wet with tears. Where has her spirit gone—flown out her dynastic mouth and closed eyes? My cheek warmed by her touch, but her blue eyes of lapis lazuli don't comfort me. Gold toys, rouge pots, licorice seeds scattered around her grave—a smell of eternity? 

They wrapped her up in white bandages, stored her heart between her toes. A neat parcel—her pickled liver and eyes and groin. Her sweet face beneath a gold mask of pharaonic tomboy possibilities. Her last words were: "But I'm a prairie goddess!"

Maplewood Cemetery

Mary White slips, down she goes deep into the tragic Persephone dirt. Into the lightless hibernaculum of the Maplewood Cemetery, beneath the cool hieratic stones of the dearly departed ones. The Roberts-Blue-Barnett dead. 

That's back when the old cemetery, existed northwest of town, way out there in the old mother's prairie belly. Back when Godfathered Commercial Street flowed up from Soden's Mill to the teacher's college, businessmen too busy to worry about the divinity of dirt. 

Only wheat, flour, cattle and diplomas were important in that little college town—while Mary White wintered beneath sleepy, polished granite and sad, long-fingered elms. The mournful Santa Fe whistle at night consoles her somewhat, but the lonely midwestern moonlight doesn’t keep her warm. 

Small as a china doll in the attic, Mary White’s got a special niche in Emporia's crowded necropolis. She walked the same hallways we did, she was going to be a Republican populist journalist and Gazette editor like her father.


Suburbia and a shopping center stretch out from there now, where once farmland and sunflowers drank up my boyhood. Where rifle cartridges clanked and scuttled on the gravel each Veteran's day and Whitman stood weeping beside me. 

Now I'm seeing things differently—the prairie rain has cleansed my bloodshot grown-up eyeballs. Another kind of moonlight intrigues me, each headstone a last homecoming for most Emporians— stoic or not. Old tragedies crowd the Kansas dead, foot to foot and head to head where they're all packed in. 

Paths of red gravel crunch beneath my feet, below me is an ancient, Eocene seabed with dead bodies in it. The plains unroll, the rains dissolve the dates on old limestone tombstones. The mother who stood over her Civil War dead son, she's way down deep in underground G. A. R. ground as well.

The dates have been erased, but the Maplewood Cemetery bones are still patiently waiting. They rot like slow toothaches, they smell like rotting flower vases left by the living for Memorial Day. The ghost of suave, good-looking Dr. Eckdall escorts me down the Azalea Path, he says he misses his Jaguar sportscar most of all. 

Lost Conversation

Lotus, lute and meadowlark—delirious garlands of sunflowers dancing at her feet. She stalks the portico of the ancient mansion on Exchange Street, the red Colorado sandstone holding the Kansas heat back and keeping the coolness in. 

A net of words and journalistic decorum enriches the coo/ interior, Teddy Roosevelt's stormy eye once glared here. Like an undaunted sea-captain, Mary White refuses to quit the castle. She fractures the pillars and picture frames, prospecting the walls for her source of grief.

She sits in the Victorian parlor, dressed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot. Her play of words is tragic, her Inca gold and wheat estate bankrupt. No special edition editorial of The Emporia Gazette can ever patch things up, the elegant little college town is rooted in a lost conversation.

Peter Pan Park (1957)

How the Jack Daniels solidifies things, William Allen White's bronze forehead gleams in the wintry moonlight. The lake is cold as indigo, the nightsky cobalt blue. Ronnie buttons up his shirt, blows cigarette rings through the railing. The polished granite of the Mary White Memorial seems rather pained-looking, the text on the bronze tablet sounds so sad. I see the look in his eyes, in this grove of old elms and faults. Some are deep and bitter, but love has come here. A shrine to a dead girl, covered with white moonlight. Ronnie's lanky limbs are still quivering, I've dismembered him in my mouth. Words are melting on my lips, I've got a crush on him awfully bad.
Mary White Dream

"Not a dream-stopper, a dream explainer, an exploiter of dreams for the crass practical ends of health and happiness, but one unsordid collector of dreams for themselves alone."—Sylvia Plath

I don't dream much anymore, it's never been my real calling. But here I am, rootless again in a dream with Mary White. She's a connoisseur of altered states of consciousness, she studies me. I'm skipping rocks over the surface of a dream lake...

"It's into this lake people's minds run at night, brooks and gutter trickles to one borderless common reservoir.”—Sylvia Plath

The rocks are perfect for skipping—flat, mica-thin, saucers of shale. The rocks so perfect they never sink beneath the smooth surface of the lake. They keep skipping out of sight, over the lake into the river. The skipping stones are like words—flying over the lake. Where do they go anyway, I ask myself.

“A human face turning aside forever, in spite of rings and vows, to the last lover of all."—Sylvia Plath

I'm drawn to her and where she's disappeared, I'm curious what happened to her. I float over the lake as if I were Count Dracula, joining Louise Allbritton on the other side. There along the edge of a dike, I'm completely amazed at what I find. It's a huge river, more vast than the Cottonwood, stretching as far as the eye can see.

"The sun shrinks to the size of an orange, only chillier, and you've been living in Roxbury since the last ice age."—Sylvia Plath

At first, I think the river simply slopes down gently eastward to the Mississippi. Instead there's an abyss, a river bank that's horribly steep. Chasing after the stones, I've almost gone running over the edge. A fallen tree trunk stops me from plunging over the edge at the very last second. Teetering on the precipice, I look way down to the Riverbottom  hundreds of feet below me. It's a huge River, I can hear the muffled, soft roar of ocean surf booming in the rocks. I feel suddenly nauseous, dizzy, just looking down at the bottom.

"By this time see the surface of the lake swarming with snakes, dead bodies puffed as blowfish, human embryos bobbing around in laboratory bottles like so many unfinished messages from the great I Am.”—﷓ Sylvia Plath

I fall back against the grassy, wind-swept riverbank—horrified, drenched in sweaty panic. The fear of falling, being caught on a steep, slippery slope at the edge of a huge abyss—these are primal fears. A Phobia of heights, a fear of falling. All I can hear is the wind and the river far down below, and my heart pounding like crazy.

"Dream about these long enough and your feet and hands shrivel away when you look at them too closely"—Sylvia Plath

Blade by thin, tiny blade of grass, I crawl my way back up the riverbank. Literally, I cling to each individual blade of grass, each tiny twig, the tiniest little rootlet—just to hang onto something, to keep from falling down into the depth the world.

The Prairie

This is the prairie, then, this great Absence. It stretches on for miles—mauve-tinted tans, golds and pale burgundies. The prairies are the healing poultices of the sun, drawing out poisons' of the flesh. 

The red inflammations of towns and cities, the stoic stench of midwest American Gothic. It's so quiet out on the prairie, my two scrawny legs love it out there. Wheat fields stretch forever, covering the ancient ruins of a great Green John Deere colossus. One needs sunglasses out there, one can get blinded by all the blazing foreheads and bright balding heads. 

Young goddesses with their winnowing fans fly south, scouring the plains for young disciples. Willa Cather has sent them down from Nebraska to meet us, their elegant, many-snaked medusa heads gleaming in the rays of a hissing, August sun. Should I be distressed, meeting so many prairie goddesses at the same time? I bow down before them, my trembling voice shrunken to the size of a pea.

The Westering Experience

How many black boots with no mercy or kindness for anybody or anything—except getting themselves west—have tromped roughly across this quiet, eastern central portion of the Kansas prairie? 

How many black Cadillac hearses and cool granite headstones for those that made it no further? Why did some stop here on their own, buried in their boots by grim Methodist preachers? 

Who can plumb the depths of this endless, midwest oceanic scenery, it's so titillating in its sad, August stoic way. A sea of gone bluegrass turned into a sea of wheat—and before that a Jurassic sea of vast, sinewy, prehistoric underwater monsters. The sea swallows us all up, then looks sick at what it's swallowed. 

Prairie schooners rest their sails in the moonlight, their cargos of men, women and children. Isis golden sea goddesses—cupping us in their giant seashell sails. Their trembling aphrodisiacal call west—the seductive Westering Experience. All the young pioneers and immigrants—who once journeyed across this huge lonely ocean. I grew up here—I went to high school with their young teen offspring.

The Ship’s Lounge

I'm a guest at the spa, surrounded by young gods. Lolitaesque farmboys—linger in the parking lot in their beat-up pickups. Their thing, their thing! I ditch my electric wheelchair, throw away the aluminum crutches. Such sweet strength—the FFA boys give me—their faces hardly shocked or innocent. 

Emporia is a midwestern Peyton Place—I don’t need to tell you that anymore. All small towns are the same way—I hang around the Ship’s Lounge. My stepfather’s the bartender—he lets me smoke and drink beer. He turns me into a local lounge lizard—on Saturday nights I prowl.

I don't need any saccharine memories—about the ones that got away. Because none of them did—I drained all the cute ones bone dry. My mother smiled—told me to be discrete and tactful. Wipe your lips, honey—and don’t let any of the cute ignorant ones break your heart.

On weekends south of the tracks—all I had left was my one runny eye, a last facet of luring, voyeuristic, forbidden knowledge. Beyond the edge of my soiled mattress in my bedroom back home—they’d take their clothes off, smiling, their nipples erect. My obscene, ogling eyeball was beginning to bulge out of its socket—such an exquisite sapphire of pain.

Miss Reeble

My sight was browning, like a bruised gardenia. Nurses in wing-caps floated around me, they're moving my head. I'm wearing pajamas in the morning, then a white tuxedo at night. The pillow case is sweet-smelling, my washed linen fresh as a breeze. 

I'm surrounded by a long coffin of goodbye oak and cheap aluminum, my nude pallbearers are slim young ranchers of the night. Engraved on the town’s towering old tombstones, Miss Reeble carves the two marvelous dates. One’s birth, one’s dead—one raw, the other cooked.

Stauffer’s Studio

I become the living room furniture, spread out like a decor of light. The Swedish recliner turns into a leather glove, the cats with bored faces look on as if nothing's happened. Well, it's easier to become a nice hollyhock or sunflower now, and beautiful purple irises are elating to be with. 

His intricate, blue veins, the marble facades and bathroom thresholds. The old decaying county courthouses, stone bridges and church foundations.. After awhile I become interested in local history—with so much of it oozing, gushing, cumming thru my veins and arteries. 

Emporia perched on a hill—surrounded by an ancient Cambrian Sea. Crinoid stems languishing in the cliffs—Wilson Park across from Welch Stadium. This ancient, healing place—no wonder Stauffer chose it for his ceramic-glass blowing art studio. The elite pallor of Jurassic monsters once gliding around the hill—huge Mosasaurs, flying Pterodactyls and dumb boys like me burying my head in Kansas Paleozoic moods. Letting it console me somewhat—letting myself become an interior decorator of time.

Broadview Hotel

Past the old Broadview Hotel, the world of Emporia rolls by slowly and gently. I'm a little Queen Bee, the naive kid in the passenger seat of my mother's sleek, black '53 DeSoto. We glide into the Broadview 66 Station, ready to be serviced by the handsome young man with his bulging pump. 

The nozzle is shiny and clean, it glistens with the color of Vaseline. My mother's erect breasts, her long red hair, her beautiful brown eyes and pouty lips—Amy Jane was one of the local Flint Hills goddess. I could smell the young gas attendant's armpits, his big thick Kansas manhood turning upward slowly. He went to EHS with her—he’s in the VFW.

Wordlessly, they look at each other as he washes the windshield, his biceps bulging through his T-shirt. How many lovers did my mother have back in high school, graduating from her not so innocent Class of '42. I’ve thumbed thru her yearbooks—twenty years earlier than mine. The look on their faces—knowing that some of them would die during the war.

And they did die—their anxious goodlooks back in the early Forties. EHS twenty years later in the Sixties—wasn’t much different. Many of us would die the same way—in the rotten jungles of Viet Nam. They made love together like we did—desperate & young & knowing we’d all die early too.

The ones in her generation that survived—they all knew each other at the VFW. They lived in a daze afterwards—what else as there to do but relax, smoke cigarettes, drink booze and dance. And do the Peyton Place thing—after work on weekends. Emporia was no different—than other small Kansas towns back then in the Fifties.

I could tell mother and the gas-station goodlooking guy—had got it on back in high school. I recognized his face—they were in the same class. The same teachers I ended up with—Wood Bloxom, Anita B. Rice, Ed Price, Roy Parker, the whole bunch. Twenty years later there they still were—teaching the dim-witted sons and daughters of our dummy parents. 

They’re all dead now—the revered EHS faculty and my seemingly eternally young parents. But I could feel the incredibly erotic vibes—the guy gazing down thru the windshield of the purple Fifties DeSoto clunker. Heavy with chrome and a real gas-hog—the goofy look on the guy’s face. Mother could do that to men—and she knew it too.

Her goodlooks and extramarital affairs—led to her divorce during the Korean War. She got sick of her first husband—him being an air force pilot. She preferred the local young men—especially the rude, crude, cute country studs. Her second husband a tall, quiet, lanky type—dumb as a fencepost from dingy Olpe. 

I took after her, I guess—I got off on low IQ prairie pricks too. Future Farmers of America—with cowboy boots. Young rich rancher’s sons parked in pickups—out on the Tallgrass Prairie late at night. A tall Coors cool one—a toke or two of Mexican weed. And then I’d have them banging the back of their heads—up against their gun-racks going spaz.

The guy at the gas-station leering down at mother’s tits—he wanted to make love to her again I could tell. Amy Jane liked the young male attention—his gawking mouth hanging down goofy & awkwardly. It was then I sensed it all over again. The power of my mother's sexuality—her slinky red-haired pussy—her pale, freckled, seething alabaster skin. 

And they did die—their anxious goodlooks back in the early Forties. EHS twenty years later in the Sixties—wasn’t much different. Many of us would die the same way—in the rotten jungles of Viet Nam. They made love together like we did—desperate & young & knowing we’d all die early too.

The ones in her generation that survived—they all knew each other at the VFW. They lived in a daze afterwards—what else as there to do but relax, smoke cigarettes, drink booze and dance. And do the Peyton Place thing—after work on weekends. Emporia was no different—than other small Kansas towns back then in the Fifties.

I could tell mother and the gas-station goodlooking guy—had got it on back in high school. I recognized his face—they were in the same class. The same teachers I ended up with—Wood Bloxom, Anita B. Rice, Ed Price, Roy Parker, the whole bunch. Twenty years later there they still were—teaching the dim-witted sons and daughters of our dummy parents. 

They’re all dead now—the revered EHS faculty and my seemingly eternally young parents. But I could feel the incredibly erotic vibes—the guy gazing down thru the windshield of the purple Fifties DeSoto clunker. Heavy with chrome and a real gas-hog—the goofy look on the guy’s face. Mother could do that to men—and she knew it too.

Her goodlooks and extramarital affairs—led to her divorce during the Korean War. She got sick of her first husband—him being an air force pilot. She preferred the local young men—especially the rude, crude, cute country studs. Her second husband a tall, quiet, lanky type—dumb as a fencepost from dingy Olpe. 

I took after her, I guess—I got off on low IQ prairie pricks too. Future Farmers of America—with cowboy boots. Young rich rancher’s sons parked in pickups—out on the Tallgrass Prairie late at night. A tall Coors cool one—a toke or two of Mexican weed. And then I’d have them banging the back of their heads—up against their gun-racks going spaz.

The guy at the gas-station leering down at mother’s tits—he wanted to make love to her again I could tell. Amy Jane liked the young male attention—his gawking mouth hanging down goofy & awkwardly. It was then I sensed it all over again. The power of my mother's sexuality—her slinky red-haired pussy—her pale, freckled, seething alabaster skin. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Reunion



The Reunion

Fallen Woman

Tale of Two Cities

Fiftieth Reunion



The Reunion

“An odyssey of error”
—Jim Carroll
“The Cosmopolitan Sense,”
Fear of Dreaming

I was so nervous getting off—
The plane there in Wichita

I took a taxi to a motel—
Resting up from the flight home

My homecoming nerves—
Were so jangled and jinxed

I swore I wasn’t going back—
But I couldn’t help myself

Our fiftieth high school reunion—
Would be our Last Hurrah

For me it would be my very—
Last Swish down Memory Lane

Fallen Woman

I remember it so very well—
As if it were simply yesterday

That day in the Eighth Grade—
Becoming a Fallen Woman

It was like a William Inge movie—
“Come Back Little Sheba”

It was like Inge’s “Bus Stop”—
With Oozing Marilyn Monroe

Like “Bus Riley’s Back in Town”—
With Ann-Margret the Slut

It was like William Holden—
And Cliff Robertson in “Picnic”

It was like Natalie Wood going—
Down on Warren Beatty in

That potboiler small-town—
“Splendor in the Grass”

It was like coming back home—
In “Come Back Little Sheba”

And stepping in a shitty—
Cow-patty in the front yard

Tale of Two Cities

It was the Best and—
The fuckin Worst of Times

Word got around fast—
About my Shameful Fall

Falling from Hetero Grace—
To Homosexual Disgrace

I was ashamed of myself—
But I couldn’t help it either

My hometown was the Tale—
Of Two Separate Cities

One was Straight and—
Full of Red State Fanatics

Stoic resigned Republicans—
Denizens of the Fly-Over State

The Other a Forbidden City—
Hidden down in the Gutter with me

I was like Harry Lime playing
The Third Man down in the Sewers

Beneath Vienna after the War—
Ratting around underground       

I fell in love with Ronnie bad—
I wanted to be his Ten Inches

He was my Seventh Grade Guy—
My Kansas Valentino Bad Boy

My Elvis the Pelvis hoodlum—
With his sleek Greasy Ducktail

He smoked dope and drank—
Johnny Walker back in 1957

He fast-tracked me down onto—
My knees faster than anything

My ears were his handlebars—
His Harley Hog was Heaven

I did a quick Sunday School—
Reverse of Religious Priorities

Following him home from—
Blowjob Junior High School

To his dumpy shack down—
South of the Santa Fe tracks

Got down on my hands & knees—
Worshipping him all night long


Fiftieth Reunion

There I was in the local—
No Tell Motel west of town

Out past Tyson’s and the—
Old Iowa Beef Processing Plant

The Auschwitz Stench—
Still lingering there in town

The Awful Smell of Money—
The worst smell in the world

The Somali Slave Laborers—
And the Mexican Wetbacks

Were pretty much gone—
Along with the Tyson Economy

Little Athens of the Midwest—
Was bankrupt and kaput

Phil Fleming was dead—
That whole gang was gone

Kenny Calhoun & Jeff Hawes—
Their Big Business dreams gone

The Baby Boomers simply one—
Big Bad Disappointment

Playing golf at the Country Club—
At the dilapidated Golf Course

The New Frontier, the Great Society—
And now the New Great Depression

Emporia a dried-up desiccated—
Ghost Town with a dead Main Street

A dried-up Cottonwood River—
And a dried-up Neosho River too

The old outdated water mains—
Bursting from the Depression heat

Soon the Dust Bowls blowing in—
From Oklahoma once again

Commercial Street now a grand—
Historic Relic of the Kansas Past

No more Santa Fe Railroad—
No more Santa Fe Railroad Station

No more College of Emporia—
Kenyon Hall now a Retirement Home

I was born across the street—
There at the Newman’s Hospital

Born on one side of Twelfth Avenue—
Died on the other side of the Street…