Boats on a River
In western Kansas,
our rivers tend to be dry land.
Thin cottonwoods grow on sandbars
in the middle of what once was a stream.
The Arkansas River
was never wide or full,
at least not like the rivers you cross
when you drive east —
the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Ohio. There,
you’re talking volume, but in Kansas
most rivers don’t carry enough water
to float more than a kayak or a canoe.
Nevertheless, we Kansas kids
read Huckleberry Finn
and daydreamed about building a raft,
about pushing ourselves
across the mile-wide muddy water,
lifting our poles from the river
without a splash.
Almost an Astronaut
A star-gazing woman
wears out the sky each night.
Twila’s telescope rides the constellations,
her eyes pulling in the tiny lights
as if they are breath.
She has no use for daylight.
She sulks until the west sacks the sun,
puts it away for the night.
As a girl she always wore out
the black crayon first.
“The sky takes a lot of wax,” she said
in her kid-scientist voice.
But she left holes in that black wax
for the things that mattered —
Twila wanted to be an astronaut —
every child has her dreams, of course;
some are just too big to be managed.
So she drives deep into the desert at night
far from streetlights, carrying her telescope
and a tent, a sketchbook and her dream.
Eye to glass, she reaches into the waxy black sky
and pulls those faraway stars toward her.
I sit in the December sun,
fastened to Earth, where winter
moves as slowly as a day on Venus.
I’ve grown weary
of the sound of cold concrete.
I want to launch myself
into the open arms of blue sky,
flee this earthly plane,
take a holiday in outer space.
But all I have in my pocket
is a handful of grocery-store dimes,
not nearly enough to pay for an escape.
I do not have
the mathematical equation
to lift myself out of gravity.
I do not know the lyrics
to the song of redemption.
Today, the December sun shines
like a savior dispelling the darkness,
burrowing into my pores until it hits bone.
I listen to words until they become written on skin.
Sometimes I get farm-fresh eggs
from Lulu. Lulu is not her real name.
Her real name is Lara, which is equally magical.
I love that both of her names are:
Lara has chickens on her farm
and if you’re her Facebook friend
then on your birthday,
she’ll post a photo on your page
of her holding one of her chickens.
When I purchase eggs from Lara,
I pick them up at her tattoo shop here in town.
The eggs are gems — small and oval,
pastel blue and green, creamy white.
With each dozen,
Lara tucks in
a tiny feather.
It rises like a breath
when you open the carton,
then it floats down
and nuzzles with nearest egg.
The feather is a secret wish,
a crooked grin, a floating prayer.
Cheryl Unruh puts words together in Emporia, Kansas. She is the author of two books of essays: Flyover People: Life on the Ground in a Rectangular State, and Waiting on the Sky, (Quincy Press), both Kansas Notable Books, as well as a volume of poetry, Walking on Water (Meadowlark Books). Her poetry has been published in The Christian Science Monitor and Flint Hills Review.