O Bury Me Not
Flat on my back in switchgrass, I sing ‘O Give Me a Home’ to the thousand-mile wind. Sometimes when I sing I even love my father. Feel how his braced leg failed him on any grassy slope. See his withered right ankle, pale upon the good one, as he scoots along the floor to the bathroom—“out of my way!”—his privacy lost to desperation and loose BVDs. Forget his heavy hand and sing of the sweet land where fathers die, for liberty, and I love him.
I love my mother as I sing of that swan like a maid in a heavenly dream. Sing our Kansas anthem and float with her, untouched, calm and protected. Forget my ugly duckliness, her sideways look, and I love her.
I love that flat, blue song, about home in a perfect, unclouded heaven, encouraged by words. A buffalo’d heaven with room to roam and play—especially deer, in particular antelope. No barren mesas or lost canyons, just the thick, shivering hide of horned and feathered grain, below cumulic Kansas.
Lying in the fields beyond Eby Street I sing full throat until my heart bursts for endless blue sky, endless yellow prairie—for endless itself, the best of all possible endings. A dreamy-head in eight-foot grain, my hands grip pale roots, talon’d deep in black earth.
“Close your eyes, boys and girls, form your notes, listen to the words,” teacher says. Alone under the firmament I sing the western songs—of lost boys and fallen girls, tragic love and lonely hope, paltry hate and dumb death—too young and wild for salvation, too clever to know better—and love their six-gun hearts.
Foundering to the grave, mama in their pockets, they tear full chisel across my plain horizon, rip-snorters and gallivants, forsaken darlins’ all. And when the sad stanza comes ‘round and the red rose blooms—over an ill look, a wrong card, a bad turn—I crybaby their beautiful words. Safe and unseen in blue and green I weep for cut-and-come-again chirks fine as cream gravy, frozen in line camps, undiscovered until spring. For tired riders fetched up on forgotten trails, who offered their dust to heaven. For ghosts who pick violets in cottonwood draws.
I try to be good, to mend my ways and be a light in His eye. Read the old poems and think: if I but unlock these magic phrases! The flowery, pearl-handled syllables, the long-gone, difficult words in western song-stories we sing in bright, orderly classrooms. Forgiveness hides in treasure words—in the must of a barn, the urgency of foals, the glamour of honest sweat. In each sparkling diamond on wheat, corn, rye and sorghum, after the rain. Songs and stories tell what I see, clear and true.
I want to be clear and true. With hard work and good words I might rise, to be like glass to God.
But I read my father, too, his secret language of mouth, step, and arm. His pause and tighten, hiss and chopped cough. Most days his mood is my truest Bible and I know what I am, will always be: a curse, a crime, a spill upon his clean shop floor. The boy Mom had to rape him for, she always says. An unreliable fool who’ll end up a postcard, maybe, forgotten in an apron pocket. I know, the songs tell me: after a time all pockets are lost. Unread stones, I read somewhere, is what we are, in a hundred years. All of us.
At Nana’s I study the picture of her uncle, gone to old Mexico to hide and die, his fancy vest and two-gun rig. How his eye chases hope, but his mouth is wicked. A bad boy who doesn’t deserve redemption, Nana’s church-word.
Throat sore from singing, I rise and sway, brush off for the ride back to the house. I linger on a ryehead under my hand. Pull apart its accordion of fathead grain, caress the back of my hand with its fringe of stiff green threads—and want to feel this warmth forever, to ease slow, right now, into the great, grassy pond of Kansas.
Pump-pump, push-push—a bump over the rough edge catches my throat—and I leave the zazz of late summer meadows, the hovering midges illuminated by sol invictus. The sun; that’s his name and I know because Nana’s myth books? She doesn't care if I read all of them. I pump-pump and form the ancient name; the complicated jaw movements make me feel like crying, in my jaws.
I wheel slow past warm orange windows, lit from within—o take me in—and reach for an ember of it, to carry with me, where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free, the breezes so balmy and light, where a thousand mile wind stirs and rattles but never breaks a buckaroo heart. I steer one-handed, the pretense of heat in my close-held fist.
A place where everyone says please and thank you, and knocks before entering—where’s that? where the only slaps are screen doors, as heat retreats and light gets small, where it takes all evening to finish saying hey? where love gathers for loud breakfasts, galleon lunches, and linger-long, lamp-lit dinners on mis-matched grandma-china? where none are left hungry? where front-porch fiddles reel under a midnight moon, scratch out lullabies for old-timers and sleepyhead babes? where children are safe from calloused hands? where is that dreamland door?
At the final turn I stop, straddle my cross-bar. I open my empty hand, hold it up to the last of the light. Heat risess, disappears. Time to forget best-beloved poems, to put away purloined phrases and secret syllables, my Whitman words and Sandburg songs. To quiet myself, go numb. I know what happens if I am me.
I turn my handles, stand, push-push, empty eyes on worn black tires.