A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2009, vol 5 no 3

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Anne French


Kansas off the Interstate

Once off the Interstate, a National Wildlife Refuge beckons us—salt marshes on the plains! We eat our picnic lunch and watch the birds.

white pelican
ungainly in the air
but what a dive

Kansas is not the boringly all-flat state of legend. Our tattered map shows bordering geological regions in varied colors. We follow the Arkansas River, its lowlands on one side, the Smoky Hills on the other, where the Pawnee Rock is a landmark of the Santa Fe Trail. We drive across the High Plains.

rich harvest—
in cornfield after cornfield
oilwells pumping

On either side of the two-lane road, the corn is high, the haymounds plentiful. We hear on the radio that the farmers of Kansas are gathering truckloads of hay for the ranchers of Texas, where there has been a prolonged drought.

the great circle of earth
one car on a Kansas road

The productive acres stretch to the horizon but not a person or habitation is in sight. This is the land of vast corporate holdings. In each village we pass through, the school is empty, the few houses run down and only the gas station-general store is open.

where the homestead once stood
the trees also
are dying

When we stop for the night the odor of cow is heavy in the air.

Garden City—
muddy feedlots and gas pipelines
where prairie grasses grew

Michael Dylan Welch's comments:

This haibun is patient, not needing to wow readers at every sentence—perhaps like Kansas itself. Yet it is sustained, slowly developing a dark or bittersweet tone, with a touch of longing for the way things used to be. We find good leaps from prose to poem. The sense of place sometimes has surprises (the salt marsh, the hills, the oil wells) that break through myth and misperception. We wonder, in the end, is this true? Are the changes to the land and its people a microcosm of changes across the country, and perhaps also in each of us, too? Perhaps we are compelled to visit or revisit Kansas to find out for ourselves.

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