In the fading haze of a pre-winter day
the long thin gray of a distant ridge
rises up into the lowering sky
and it is hard to tell where one lies
and the other speaks truth.
Close at hand it’s easy enough:
a thick clump of cottonwoods tangle their branches
above the low banks of a dry weather run.
In the absence of sun,
layered edges of ancient stone
rise up beside the banks of the creek,
bordering the fields where an invasion of cedar
juts up clear across the prairie:
unwelcome thrusts rising up where grass should grow
in an unbroken glow of autumn’s drying tones.
It is hard to know which from what
on an evening like this
when the last bits of a long day scrape and jangle
against the skin of my thoughts
and the things that I ought to be
in places where I never was
seem to run together in the darkening mist.
At this particular time of night
when the last light of day fades from the sky
and what lies well beyond the ridge disappears
in the confining nearness of this low light,
even thoughts seem to have their own shape
in this quickly fading gray.
Twenty miles away,
tower lights blink red toward Emporia.
Lines of headlights
weave their way up and around the hills and curves,
heading toward the lower plains to the west
and higher hills to the east.
Beyond the busy-ness of these glaring lights
it is easy enough to imagine there would be quiet:
away from these hard-worn pathways of painted lines
where people wind their way toward Topeka, Wichita,
Oklahoma City, Kansas City and farther places.
In the vastness of these rolling hills
stretching their way into the smoother plains,
I marvel at the pioneers—
homesteaders who somehow knew
what it was that drew them here
behind so many hard-made miles of mules and oxen
dragging their lives from other places months away,
knowing somehow that in this endless open space
there was something here that looked like hope,
something that someday
would feel like home.