Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tim Janicke Star Magazine 4 Feb. 2007 Link

The Star Magazine of the Kansas City Star honored me with an article last week. This was not posted on the Star site until just the last few days. As I waited, I realized how entitled I have come to feel to immediate electronic access to news publications! I can just barely remember the days when I was typing out a zillion revisions of poems on a typewriter.

I cannot reprint the copyrighted article without permission, but here is the link. They omitted wonderful illustrations by Allan Chow, a KC Art Inst. grad. He will feature the oils at a master artist show in a Manhattan, Ks. in May, and I don't want to miss them. My thanks to Tim Janicke for his care and all the time he spent with the text and photo. Here is the link:

And here is one of the poems:

At Flint Hills National Grasslands

for Daniel

Our eyes travel into blue haze

forty miles, and I tell my son

about our several-great grandparents

who lived just west of this summit.

Their graves lie in a far distant fold,

a valley where their voices mix

into a blur of lost wind gusts

like those rushing into our ears.

I tell him about a photograph

of our Indian grandfather—

his jet hair and deep black eyes

looking at us from a quiet face.

It must have been springtime

because of the flat dry bluestem

crushed around him in ripples

half a lifetime before his marriage.

I tell my son about Grandmother

mostly Irish and German and

lots of questions about her past

but she was born in Ottawa

and now lies in the quilt layers

of hills around us, next to him

and next to twin baby girls.

My mother’s ashes are buried here.

Under the stalled sun, afternoon

also seems to last forever—

the solar fire just past zenith,

the clouds heaped to the heavens

above flint-smooth edges of horizon.

Below, monarchs flicker a trail

as they migrate through the Hills

far, as far as any of us can see.

I dedicated this to my son Daniel Low because we traveled to the National Grasslands Park at the Z Bar Ranch in Chase County (see Wm. Least Heat Moon's book Praryerth for more about Chase County, Ks.), and as we looked over the Flint Hills, I realized how much family history he had not heard. Like my parents before me, I assumed he magically knew what I knew without telling the stories! But after law school, in 2002, he spent a year in Kansas clerking for Judge Deanell Taha. At that time we had the opportunity to spend time together and travel to the Flint Hills, where I grew up.

Like most younger generation folks, he's on a projectory into the future, so I tried to recapitulate some history and emphasize how this land is made sacred by the histories of our forbears--their narratives and seemingly endless days spent living in this place--and also by their lingering spirits, even if these are just subtle traces. And I hope there's more in the poem, as well.

At my age, I have over 50 years of memories wadded into the curlicues of my brain matter. Sometimes I feel like a walking museum. I remember when I would visit my grandmother when she was in her 90s, and how I marveled at how far back her memory went. From her stories, I have first-hand accounts of events into the 1890s, the time of the Wounded Knee deaths.


  1. Hills Like Valleys

    The mystery of the hills floating in the air around them,
    So said the surveyor with a chart blown against his face.
    The sun was continually strafing the landscape.
    And also, continued the dispatcher, everyone’s cousins
    With each other, keeping incest a family affair.

    We came to the country to learn about ourselves.
    Everywhere was a grave. A grove of trees was no different
    Than a mole on an old lady’s face as she peered from a window.
    That old foundation looks like my father’s favorite toilet.
    That creek a trickle of blood down a fingerprint.

    Now the sky drops leaflets on our heads. Tiny leaflets
    Typeset in disappearing ink – they told us nothing.
    Monarchs form a tiara on the crest of the hill.
    And the crews working to put out the fire,
    They smoke signal each other in romantic sonnets.

  2. Okay, Richard, am getting curious. Who are you? In any case, I like the surveyor and chart blown against his face.

  3. I'm just a guy who writes poems. I hope you don't mind me using yours as inspiration?