Congratulations to the Ad Astra Poetry Contest #4 winners for the theme Kansas Ghost Stories. Winners are: Dennis Kelly (Seattle, former resident of Emporia); Philip Miller (Mt. Union, Penn., former resident of KC, Ks.); Amy Cummins (Hays); H.C. Palmer (Elmdale).
After A Burn: In the Cottonwoods at Camp Wood
Look closely. The texture
of burnt grass traces
wheel ruts, uncovers
rings of limestone,
Osage, Neosho and drovers.
Dig beside the gnarly roots.
Chards of clay vessels,
pipestone and snake-oil bottles,
a Colt .45 shell casing.
And there, like a man
sleeping on his side,
the rotted limb that suspended
the rustlers—their spirits exhaling,
rattling the lustrous leaves.
“Michael R. Wise, former chairman of Denver's failed Silverado
Banking, jumped from the ninth floor of a short-term parking garage at the Tampa
International Airport last week.” The Wall Street Journal
Fell, jumped—maybe pushed?
Smooth guyz—like Wise don’t
Fall or jump—they get pushed
You mess too many—people over
Sooner or later—karma catches up
It comes back—like a boomerang
Just like his—second wife
Supposedly—"suicide by pillow"
C’mon please—give me a break
I met Wise—at KSTC
In the student union—smooth
Mike’s hands—cold as ice
His blue eyes—slanted shut
sizing me up—for a scam.
Philip Miller, author of Branches Snapping (Helicon 9 Press)
The haunted landscape I haunt
once haunted me,
stretching as it does toward eternity,
my windows opening to only sky,
so I learned to tell the seasons
by their tones of purple, gray, and blue.
Today it’s the pale robin’s egg of April
and a day moon the color of ancient bones
that lie buried in the clay-rich earth I lie in as well
and listen to the wind,
its highest shrieks to lowest groans,
all of its sad little songs,
in voices that I once thought belonged to ghosts
this wind that won’t give up the ghost, itself—
one thing that will last forever.
Blue Light Lady
I heard today the statue of Elizabeth Polly
In her Park on 26th Street and Indian Trail
Had been decapitated and was under repair.
This native limestone sculpture has
An earnest face gazing toward the hill southwest
Of Fort Hays and one neatly cobbled shoe
Peeking from beneath a billowing Victorian gown.
She stood looking away from the park entrance,
Gazing east; now the pedestal has no lady.
The most popular costume for girls in Ellis County
Is the woman in a blue dress with a white bonnet.
Her ghostly spirit emits a blue light.
The tale is told on every Halloween night
To new generations, the story
Changing a little each time,
Becoming ever truer each time it changes.
The blue light lady said to haunt us and help us
In Hays could have been an army nurse,
An enlisted man’s wife, a dead divorcée,
A woman who lived here only ten days before cholera
Took her, as she died in 1867 and became immortal.
A pal who grew up pedaling by the park confided to me:
He feared he didn’t believe in her any more;
She was created by vernacular memory.
When you ask at the fort, you hear a fair account.
But no one wants to think our legend is untrue.
We need Elizabeth Polly, our secular saint,
Walking along the ridgetop of Sentinel Hill,
Where, it is said, she wanted to be buried.
But the ground was too rocky, so
She had to be buried at the bottom of the hill
Where the soil could be opened for her grave.
It was marked by wooden crosses
Washed away in a great flood. We no longer
Have floods, and Big Creek never rises.
Yet Elizabeth Polly is more true than truth
And more historical than history.
She is us; she is how we remember our past.