American Portrait (11)
by Ken Harnisch
Came that autumn day
When Erwin Rasmussen spied
The Mayflower Van moving on the hill
The only hill in Custer County,
South Dakota, she had told him once;
The only place a free spirit could go
To touch the stars, and only then
On the summer nights
When the mosquitoes were as big as crows
And the black flies bit the tender skin
Of anyone who dared to soar away
To a planet where she promised there was life
He put his hands in his Oshkosh pockets
And felt the straps sagging on his melancholy
Shoulders. Resisted the urge to put a thin stalk
Of yellow wild grass between his parched lips
But needing something to bite on, he did so
Anyway, peering out at the trillions of waving
Fronds across the fields, that were like seas
Of ochre rolling on and on.
Right off the two-track rut that was the county
Road, she used to point to the place where
The school house had been swallowed by the
Grass, where the silo had come down in
The tornadoes in 89 and still rusted
In the corn. There were three small
Houses there when they had made love
In the sweet spring mist, but those
Were blackened empty hulks
And their former owners
Now working the grain elevators, or, like
Sam, driving trucks somewhere
Not my idea, her father said,
Wiping his brow with his leathery hand
But maybe she has a point
Maybe were not all cut out for the land
And maybe the land dont want us anymore anyway
You have to start to think it, son.
Erwin was angry then,
Ready for the debate, ready to say a man with
A tractor and the will could conquer any
Place on earth, but her father just smiled
And said, I dont think John Deere ever
Met a place more goddamned than South Dakota.
He had semi-promised her to stay away
When she moved, but spying him walking up the hill
She held out her arms and let him take her deep
Into their embracing wells. He drank in her sweet lavender,
Cringing only when she broke away. She smiled at him
Trying to avoid seeing Erwin the Gentle Giant weep
While his final kiss rested on her coral cheek.
Stay, was all he said, his words always as spare
As the Prairie from whence they sprung as children in the
I cant, was her reply.
She took two steps and turned around;
Came to him; rested once more in his arms.
Then she slowly cut the cord.
I cant read, sweetie.
I cant think;
I cant dream;
I cant live.
And looking at the pearling
In his periwinkle eyes she
Added, Come on, Erwin,
Even you know
Driving fifty miles
Just to see a movie
Is too damn much
Author's Note: I read some years ago that the Great Plains are actually winning over attempts to farm them or tame them...and I think that this may not be a bad thing, humbling the minds of mankind
Posted on 06/22/2003
Copyright © 2022 Ken Harnisch
|Member Comments on this Poem|
|Posted by Agnes Eva on 06/22/03 at 08:20 PM|
sad, this end of romance in the waving wheat, the girl who wasnt' born for it, and the boy that stayed despite the odds of the land... i feel both their positions. i love his emphatic idea that "a man with/ A tractor and the will could conquer any/ Place on earth"
|Posted by Alex Smyth on 06/22/03 at 11:51 PM|
Poignant, tender~ I grew up in the rurals and saw this happen, but also saw what happened to the ones who tried to compromise. Better to remember the dream, I think...
|Posted by Max Bouillet on 06/25/03 at 07:06 PM|
You tell a story extremely well... even though I have never been to the places described physically.... I now feel as though I've been there. Nicely crafted.
|Posted by Kate Demeree on 06/28/03 at 09:25 AM|
I have read this several times, and am finally getting around to commenting it. I love every AP you have written Ken, this one is as much alive as the rest, in some ways more so. The simple words exchanged saying more than a thousand would.