Sample: Driving Late to the Party: The Kansas Poems

book09
Woodley Press, 2012

Sample Poems

DRIVING LATE
TO THE PARTY, 1968

and paying good money
to dodge these turnpike potholes
from Wichita to Lawrence,
a thin drift of fog lifting
around the ten o’clock
whine of the engine,
80 miles an hour,
the last half-inch
of Old Mr. Boston
passing between us
in the confluent haze.
And all these tumbleweeds!
The wind whipping them at us—
pigweed, bugseed,
the stark dry rasp shredding
in the car’s wheelwells,
sticking in the Mustang’s grille,
one headlight blinded
and still they come,
dozens of wind globes
hurling themselves at us,
the whole prairie coming
undone, scattering
its seed, the turquoise
dashlights flowing
down our cheekbones
as we shoot through
another underpass,
twenty and drunk and itching
just to be there,
blind and ready.
(for G.L. Dold)

FIRST JOB, GRIFF’S BURGER BAR

On the grease-stained tile
and gray clots of snow
three men appeared

at closing time. Hoods pulled tight
around their red faces,
they looked like monks,

I thought, until the one with fingers
like raw sausages said
On the floor. Now.

He held the gun, the fat bullets
waiting in their round casements.
I went down

and the manager, Gary, crumpled
beside the open safe. It was
New Year’s Day, 1965,

and I was scheduled to be off, home
watching football with my dad,
Mother in the kitchen

popping popcorn. But I’d filled in
for Rich, whose wife was due
any day. Any day now

he’d have a son, someone, it occurred
to me just then, who could some day
sidle through a back door

with his buddies and shoot a couple
of kids brainless enough
to be working

for a dollar an hour, or shoot them
for money they didn’t have . . .
I lay face down,

forehead on my forearm and wondered
how much it would hurt, not
to be shot but to feel

the butt of the gun indent my skull.
Eyes closed, I started counting
the night’s take, hoping

it was enough to make them go away.
When I felt the barrel
against my neck I thought

to say something to make it disappear,
and all I could utter, the register
of my voice climbing

back into childhood, was Take my wallet,
please, sir. An enormous
silence fell around us.
And when the time clock struck down
another minute, it was the sound
of a ball bearing dropped

into a pie pan. I twitched and let loose
a long stream of air.
Then my mouth was stopped

with a greasy rag and I was hogtied
with my own apron string.
When the police arrived,

our lights blazing long after closing time,
they put us in a warm car
and gave us coffee,

and the owner, Mr. Griffith, drove up
in his bronze Lincoln
and asked if we were OK,

and hugged us as if we were long-lost
sons and gave us
the Christmas bonus

he’d forgotten, twenty dollars.
His wife, Tracy, kissed me
on the forehead and stroked

my cheek, and Gary, who’d never uttered
a kind word to me, said we’d go
for a beer after work next Friday,

that he’d buy the first round.
I drove home knowing
I’d just had the best day of my life.