People in Kansas, 1910

Christopher Middleton

1

Now they stand quite still on level doorsteps,
Outside the Drug Store and the Post Office.

A white sky, two buildings underneath it,
Outside the buildings half a dozen people.

Across the dust like dice the buildings rolled,
Stopped under the white sky.

Soon the people prised them open, clambered out.
Here at last. Here, they said, is Dorrance.

2

Stiff, like effigies, almost,
Made of language; speaking
The people came to be real for one another.

A head below the P of the Post Office
Shrinks into a Stetson. A wiry woman
Shoulders the stone Drug Store doorpost.

All six like effigies, wax, mechanical.
Work all day with corn, beans, soda pop.
The letters, few and far between. Senseless.

3

The people insist. But a vague terrain –
How can you fill it. Corn and letters
Stop short. The horizon,

A banker might one day darken it,
Locomotives. This big space frightens. We
Lost here a sense of belonging with the wind,

Now geese and trees that fly with it are no part of us.
Trust your shirt, these oblong blocks of stone.
Trust two dark heaps dropped in the dust by horses.

A chimney pot, back of the Post Office. Plain
Undistressed people, you never dreamed
Of burning letters, one by one, or bodies.

4

That’s it. None could know what later crooked
Shapes
History takes when something radiant
All the brain and body cells cry out for
Is suppressed.

Behind bars appetites riot; captured
Guards
Sob for mercy; spies are fucked.
These oblong people lived out their free time
On credit,

They could count it wise not to wish
Their soap
Were sweeter, small business not
So methodical, dogs happy to work
Nights for them.

No. Their stark speech I do not understand.
Why
Make of life such a hard nut?
Or did they? Far off, faceless, kin of mine,
Hard living

Salt of the earth, sharply defined, crystal
Flakes,
You were never as oblong
As the buildings that warmed and warped you.
You weren’t fooled.

5

Focus again,
So sharp you can smell the cigar,
The string beans taste
Just right. Objects, it
Was not your fault, objects, if
That is what you were, you have to go

Forth, shoulder your signs
In capital letters, onward to a place
I tell you of,
A place of blue and yellow. There
Mountains and people are one indivisible creature,
A grape admits night glow
To become its body,

Absolute, good as the bread
Is dense to the teeth
With death and legend. There, with patience
And the scent of sage,
People other than you ripened once
To a style – some to foreknow
And resist evil. Goodbye

Innocent oblongs, forget nothing
Now it is too late, but
Forget my fist with which if I could
I’d bang this postage stamp through
Into the reversed
World you stand in. It

Would stick in your sky of whiteness,
Perforated, a script of waves,
Muttering to you,
A voice, cancelled:
The sun does not shine for anyone,
The leaf arrives one breath
Only before the wind.