just one reason that I couldn’t stand Kansas

What I did: What I did not

There is a hidden back
-road at the edge
of Olathe, Kansas
sprawling out, flat

and hard all around.
Dry grasses, grey tarmac,
the yellow center line
all cracked, white bones

at the boarders,
my running Birkenstocks
beating out time.
Past the last worn

council houses, a mile
from the prison,
the realm of coyotes, this
is the place where I run.

There are predators here,
I pretend to be one of them.
At nineteen I am often filthy,
uncommunicative, my hair

hangs in strings.
I pretend to be hard.
This is the background,
I am the background

of the scene I would paint
if I had that talent.
There are few trees here,
cottonwood, the weeds

are yellow, edging into brown,
they thirst like the earth does,
for water or blood.
The unpaintable sounds

of foot-slap and bird-cry,
the scream of falcon,
the vulture’s wings flap; wet silk,
torn from a widow’s spine.

Rising up from the heat-waves
that pretend to be water,
two figures emerge as my legs fly:
An old man, a boy.

The man stands five-foot nine,
or slightly under. A bearded Mexican,
dressed as a cowboy, with road dust
painted half up his thigh.

He walks slowly, peering over
a pornographic magazine that leaves
me with the swift impression of tender
breasts. I nod at him, in passing.

The boy is five years old, dressed
in jeans and a jacket, too large
and hot for him. His feet are bare,
with blood at the nails.

I thought his hands
were folded before him;
A little boy walking in shame
for disobeying grandfather.

I did not comprehend the gold.

This is what I would paint,
if I had the talent for painting:
A little boy prostitute
trapped on a backroad,

who flinches at the foolish,
pampered girl who smiles
at him from two feet of safety.
He knows only

that his rear end aches,
that he has to pass water,
that the tight golden handcuffs
are drawing blood from his hands.

This is what I did:
I looked at the old man,
took in his yellow
glinting bridgework smile.

I witnessed the pistol he pulled
from the front of his chaps.
This is what I wish that I had done:
Taken that child into my arms.

No matter the consequence.

Instead, I ran.
Back into town,
as fast as my legs
could take me.

At the first petrol
station I came to, I forced
a fat toothless blond
from her phone-booth,

interrupting her pimp.
I had my own,
brief, conversation
with an accusatory voice.

I sat down on the curb,
my feet stilled in dust,
awaiting the coming
of whirling blue lights.


About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on April 2, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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