The summer of 1968, I worked as a temporary postal employee in Emporia, Kansas, my hometown. Fellow workers despised me as a college-student temp, and so I spent my breaks alone, reading poetry in a nearby park. I had once played with the city band in the park's gazebo, and already it showed evidence of change--fresh paint and new benches. Cicadas chorused around me. Dazzle-blue sky patchworked the elms. Solitude was alive. Kevin Rabas catches this sweet taste of small-town life in his new book Songs for my Father: A Collection of Poems and Stories (Meadowlark Press, 2016). The book is authentically regional; it busts stereotypes. For example, golf courses are a natural fit for places where land is cheap, and every Kansas town over 1000 souls has a course. Rabas celebrates the intersection of natural forces—grass fires, here—with golf in this poem:
Prairie Hills Course
Hank Jones hauls by the bucketfuls
the black pock-marked eggs, the golf balls
that made it out of the range and into the prairie
and were rolled over by flames, when the country course
was windswept at the edge by fire, a fringe
of late June red and yellow, fire as high as Hank’s waist.
Here, Rabas select images and fragments of narrative to witness this odd, vivid moment. The single sentences sweeps through like a wind gust. Colors are elements of nature as well as gravity, distance, three-dimensional existence. Rabas describes “fire” in terms of human scale, without sentimentality—yet the import is clear. Big skies relegate humans to minor roles.
“Autoshop, Twilight,” “John North Ford—Emporia,” “’67 Mustang Fastback": more artifacts of the historic past occur in well tuned poems and prose. Rabas is a jazz percussionist and writes about music with heart and in-depth knowledge. The book brings back not nostalgia, but rather it restores some memories of perfect beauty. Yesterday on the street I saw a 1979 AMC AMX in original olive green, mint condition, still a striking muscle car. This book will delight those familiar with the grasslands setting as much as the sight of a forgotten, perfect car. Others are also welcome.