Photo Credit: FlyoverPeople.Net
Inspired by America: Now and Here’s Crossing State Lines: An American Renga and fueled by the arts funding crisis in her home state of Kansas, state poet laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is launching a new collective poem about Kansas, To the Stars Through Difficulty. This effort on her part has placed Kansas on the America: Now and Here tour.
Under Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s direction, 117 of Kansas’ poets were invited to contribute 10 lines inspired by the state and country they call home. Creating what’s known as a renga, a single united poem made up of many voices, each poet responding to the one before. This project builds on Mirriam-Goldberg’s gathering of 150 poems during 2011 to celebrate Kansas’ 150th anniversary of statehood, which resulted in the publication of Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems and an ongoing 25-30 town and city tour (http://150KansasPoems.
The Kansas renga was kicked off on January 1, 2012 by Mirriam-Goldberg, whose 10 lines began, “No other way most of the time, and yet the light / unscrolling from the milky horizon conceals what will shine / above, around, below us just hours from now on the longest night.” It’s been unfolding since, and what an exciting process to watch!
Find the renga below, titled, “To the Stars Through Difficulty,” a translation of the state’s motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera. Make sure to check back often as the poets continue adding their parts to the journey! Visit http://150kansaspoems.wo
To the Stars Through Difficulty
No other way most of the time, and yet the light
unscrolling from the milky horizon conceals what will shine
above, around, below us just hours from now on the longest night.
Snow, ice, and rain: what melts or refreezes clings to branches
and grasses. Did you think it would be easy to step outside,
to get on with the day and the weather of a collapsed blizzard?
Not when a beloved watches his life narrow to breath. Not when
the car barely starts, the windshield won’t emerge from its ice,
or the dear ones long gone suddenly feel close as sleet turned to rain.
The veil lifted. On the bare branch, like an inverse star, one bluebird.
– Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
And now–there–to the right–the red slash
of a cardinal’s wing, a momentary artery
of flight, flung lifeline from pine
to fencepost, sky to pulsing wrist. Who says
it’s difficult to get the news? Yes,
the cold has spikes, and frozen furrows
of last year’s cornfields stumble
to a blind horizon. But look up:
Big plans unroll on high, black twigs
written on a bright blue sky.
–switch– by –switch– by –switch–
stitch of form to form, hitch of
meaning, latched-down sentence parsed
across the blue, darkened-down
to indigo, beyond, to dim,
to grey, to stone, to sky, to scythe–
hatched in lines, ringing– ringing–
every eve a throne
of thorn: earth, a cradle–
hand, a hearth.
and at first light ice invites fire remembrance camp kitchen bedroom
summer’s burnt grasslands and sun-scorched skin
outside the stone-eyed snowgirl grows up cold
hard enough to endure the harsh world before she turns to slush
fire lends itself to stale tales no longer serving life smolder and blaze
fanned flames serve up ash and haze linking earth and deep blue sky
hearth-keepers line the path to guide us back you and I
to heart’s hearth where shadow and light sit side by side
come back to the hearth to the heart to the soul
—Hazel Smith Hutchinson
— Yet, no one could tend the flames
of war when a boy replayed his short life
as Quantrill’s bullet traversed his brain
& no one tended the slave, drowning
in a night crossing for Leavenworth,
nor the farmer near the Ville of Cold Blood
(where talk of coal-fire rekindles tough times)
& none the young pilot from Chanute,
his name chiseled in black granite.
– HC Palmer
In daylight, the sky is different, its blue hues
doming over browned and silent fields,
all indigo and premonition.
The sky is nothing more than a mirage:
Still, who doesn’t want to be a confusion
of wings in this burning country? To navigate
from one darkened edge to another, to
map even the most quiet of voices in silver,
exposing each star-spun womb
like a wound to air.
— Mary Stone Dockery
The way an artery spikes,
blue fire and light,
bullet sky, bullet brain,
Who meets here?
drowned against what fence?
Fire branches, mourned
two, none, here.
“Where did they go, mommy?”
– Judith Roitman
lightning trails a whip across the sky
before striking dry earth
orange flames dance
an upward spear propelled by animal voices
sun slips fearfully away
slant-eyed along the horizon
south wind rides the clouds in herds
running from a hunter’s moon
who with eyes of ruby coal
and breath of smoke can’t find his prey
– Marie Asner
The deer know.
Guns have silenced themselves, left
for another season, waiting for duck
and geese to follow
the North star home
again, crossing dry grasses
beneath the clouds. We
listen for rain, for ice, for wind
to bring tell of tomorrow. We ask:
what can they know when they don’t look up?
— Daniele Cunningham
meantime, we read in logs
of strangers, roosters, hogs
(in god they trusted.)
in kansas they busted,
deceived by boosters, cogs
in railroad apologues,
by agency mystagogues.
sparse women, maladjusted
lives hellish and dusted.
distance. men loved it, and dogs.
– Philip Kimball
The dog’s ashes sift a little lower
in the garden under evening’s arterial light.
Above, Venus calls in the west,
and the last flight of geese settles
in old man Moran’s pond.
Hunched and shuffling, he makes his way
to feed the old horse and graying mule,
a fortnight from the end of his wife’s
long fight. Stars are winking now, but we’ve
difficulty enough on the ground.
– William Sheldon
Just like the old farmer, who understands
that each breath is a footstep in the one
same direction no matter which way
he walks — the destination
always the same, even before
he knew it, his route plotted
one field to the next. Each morning
sunrise stretches across Kansas
indifferent to young men and boys settling,
unaware, into the crease of old chores.
Like the bourgeois writer, contemplating
the hottest spell in fifty million years
while he burns his toast and eats it too
The fossils of the future worry him:
the sun will shine differently then
the stars will give off universal truths
at last without us without
lugubrious sounds of strangling aquifers
just a mob of gods
chasing a broken owl
– Joseph Harrington
…the universal truth of a broken owl
suddenly shattered by a strand of barbed wire,
gone from magnificent pursuer to wheeling
wreck of hollow bones, his wing flailing, cloud
of down and feathers floating like incense,
his body an aspergil splattering blood onto
Indian Grass, anointing this flinty place
of sacrifice just as the last hint of starlight
implodes in his failing eyes, as he goes the way
of a lightning bolt or a gust of prairie wind…
– Roy J. Beckemeyer
Between you, me, the universe…I fear I shall go mad!
Still, stars spin their course….I spin mine.
I’m the stone eyed cold girl cursing her dog for dying.
No bullet sounds, artery to bone to brain to farmer’s wife, under the harvest moon.
The crash of cymbals as crescendos on my skin…..
Shooting stars surround until I vibrate from their tone.
No truths to behold; just a farmer mourning ashes turned to grain to burnt toast.
Seed carried, blood stained prairie dust settles, waits to create anew.
Stitch a wing from cardinal to owl to make the switch….disjointed yet alive..
An open wound…..breathe it back to life.
– Ronda Miller
Breath: everything is riding on it.
Under the door winter slides
its white envelope, past due, past due
as we move from bed to chair
and room to room, our lives
sighing in the cedars
strung on backroads to this place
where we go in and out
breath by breath, gravel and ice
underfoot, Orion overhead.