Thanks to my cousin, Suzanne, Ted Kooser- Poet Laureate and Nebraskan, has found his way into my life. I heard him read this poem today on NPR and it made my brain flood with memories of Nebraska summers.
So This is Nebraska, by Ted Kooser
The gravel road rides with a slow gallop
over the fields, the telephone lines
streaming behind, its billow of dust
full of the sparks of redwing blackbirds.
On either side, those dear old ladies,
the loosening barns, their little windows
dulled by cataracts of hay and cobwebs
hide broken tractors under their skirts.
So this is Nebraska. A Sunday
afternoon; July. Driving along
with your hand out squeezing the air,
a meadowlark waiting on every post.
Behind a shelterbelt of cedars,
top-deep in hollyhocks, pollen and bees,
a pickup kicks its fenders off
and settles back to read the clouds.
You feel like that; you feel like letting
your tires go flat, like letting the mice
build a nest in your muffler, like being
no more than a truck in the weeds,
clucking with chickens or sticky with honey
or holding a skinny old man in your lap
while he watches the road, waiting
for someone to wave to. You feel like
waving. You feel like stopping the car
and dancing around on the road. You wave
instead and leave your hand out gliding
larklike over the wheat, over the houses.
This poem brought me back to my childhood, to a somewhat less populated area of Nebraska. Riding on the handlebars of my friends bike, challenging ourselves to fit three, even four people on one bike (all without helmets). Spending the whole day outside. Our mom’s yelled for us when it started to get dark. To get from point A to point B, we’d hop fences and run through yards. We’d go to the neighborhood pool without parental supervision or nannies literally everyday of the summer. We ate melted Reese’s pieces for lunch.
When we turned 16, we’d drive around for hours. With the windows down and our arms out. Feeling the warm air turn cool as it became dark. We’d find undiscovered places in the spaces around us. Drinking beer in cornfields and searching for the haunted “Chinese Cemetery” in the middle of the country. We no longer went to the pool but would go cool off in the Platte River or the DX sandpits. Available, ungoverned, warm water.
It is amazing how a decade of distance can make you appreciate that which you once found boring and even despicable. From this viewpoint, my memories of smaller-town Nebraska are magical. Looking back now from the place of a parent, I wish my children could have that experience. And yet, I know there is no way I will let them have that much freedom.
And yes, my wild childhood involved a bowl-cut perm. Because what says freedom, like a perm?