Feb. 18, 2008

Leaving Kansas City

by George Bradley

Kansas City depends a lot on the way
You look at it. If you approach from the West,
It takes on a certain weary beauty:
Misguided, uninspired, familiar.
But driving through from the East,
It's just another group of grubby people
After you thought you'd passed all that.

Lying partly on ground that considered
Being a bluff, and partly on the plain,
It's a city where different states are possible
For people who don't often get that kind of choice.
In the middle, running nowhere from nowhere,
Is the Missouri, a river that moves off
Like a lake that got a little restless.
There are a few office buildings, from the late
Thirties, which is when the government stopped
Giving them away, and when folks here stopped
Worrying about keeping up with the times.
The city pumps out smog, absentmindedly,
Because that is what big cities do.

You don't know you loved it till you left it;
From now on there isn't much of anything:
Several towns like Abilene, which mean a lot
In the movies, and one or two ghost towns,
If you want to be where other people
Decided not to be. Steadily, inexorably,
The desolation opens out in front of you...
There is some satisfaction in realizing
That it's just as bad as you heard it was.
The sun burns everything jackrabbit brown,
And nothing grows high enough to be noticed.
Infrequently, and in questionable taste,

There are garish green spots of irrigation
Where someone just gave it up and stayed.
Before long you have travelled to the point
Where it would be pointless to turn back.

The next point of reference is twenty miles off,
An ill-defined part of the horizon,
A slight rise like the one twenty miles back.

You find so much ground to pass over
That covering it quickly isn't much help.
On the only radio station, a voice explains,
In an accent you wouldn't have thought possible,
The most practical way of doing something
It would never have occurred to you to do.
The voice is distant and doesn't seem aimed at you.

By now you've lost track of precisely
What you had in mind. You move on because
For some reason you have come here to do that,
Although what you are doing is completely
Unremarkable. You wouldn't know to look around,
But they take this route every day; incredibly,
People far worse equipped than yourself
Did the same thing a long time ago.
You move on because somewhere up ahead,
If you remember right, if you're going the right way,
If everything they told you was true...
There is a place called Colorado where you will,
Of course, be very glad to arrive, where the others
Wanted to go; and you will sit smug in the shade
High up on a mountain, feeling the wind
Send shivers over your body, looking back
At the great sickening swoop of the plain
And think it part of a grand design:
Satisfying, necessary, even beautiful.

"Leaving Kansas City" by George Bradley, from Terms to Be Met. © Yale University Press, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of American novelist and essayist Toni Morrison, (books by this author) born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio (1931). Morrison's first big success was the 1977 novel Song of Solomon, about a rich black businessman who tries to hide his working-class background. She is perhaps known best for her intricate and moving novel Beloved, which was published in 1987 and later made into a film starring Oprah Winfrey. Morrison is the winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, and her new book, Mercy, is scheduled to be released later this year.

It is the birthday of writer and editor Helen Gurley Brown, (books by this author) born Helen Gurley in Green Forest, Arkansas (1922). Her first book, Sex and the Single Girl, was published in 1962. The book served as a kind of manual for the newly emergent young, career-oriented, financially independent single woman. It was due partially to the success of Sex and the Single Girl that Brown was appointed editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1965. She remained in that position until her retirement in 1996 at the age of 73. Brown went on to publish several other books, including Outrageous Opinions (1966), Sex and the New Single Girl (1970), Having It All (1982) and, more recently, Dear Pussycat: Mash Notes and Missives from the Desk of Cosmopolitan's Legendary Editor (2004). Brown continues to live and work in New York City.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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