- It Takes Nine Lives to Cross Nebraska
When I lived in Wyoming,Nebraska was a nine-hour drivethrough purgatory.The last state I had to survive to get home.Counting mile markers in mocking green,erect and endless as the cornstalkson the shoulder of the road,every inch of the journeystuck to my brainlike scorch on a skillet.
There must have been an AugustI rode right past yourotating a road sign's batonlike a cheerleader at halftime,waiting for the music to begin.Perhaps you even stopped my carwith a deft flick of your sunburned wrist.If you did, I didn't see you.Not through the counting,not through the corn.
Listing, losing balance,I sprawl in strange directions,bending to temptation, angling after need.
Some days I wish my life had hewedto the predictable patterns of corn: [End Page 95]
a tidy eruption,then an unerring surge toward the sun.Growing quick and ramrod straight.
June, a flat field of mud.July, a lush universe: all parallels, all green.
Your grandfather, a Nebraska farmerwho dug a house deep in the earth,convinced by his cropslife is richer below ground.
In the root cellar,you learned love's rapacity.How to shuck and eatan ear of corn:
reckless ripping of outer leavesto reveal the heart.A hunger so honed you crunchstraight through sweetness to the bone.
In FFA club, Nebraska boysare taught a single cornstalkbears more seeds
than a thousand murdersof crows can devour in a decade.Born outnumbered,
raised to mount rifle racksin pickups, they pledge an oathto never get outgunned.
Girls grow up anonymous in acres of corn,feeling smaller than the first astronomerwhose calculator crashed counting stars.
How quickly country kids learn their place in the world. [End Page 96]
Folding laundry in London,an ocean biggerthan Nebraska between us,I find a strand of your hair,the color of burnt cornsilk,clinging to the sleeve of my sweater.
Green thumb rotted by city living,I cannot pull it free.I think of summer barbecues,buzzsawing through a buttered corncob,and the morning after—one silk threadstill caught between my teeth.
Omaha, Lincoln, Ogallala, Kearney—Indians and their annihilators
alternating each exit.Signposts on I-80 reveal
the harvest's Golden Rule:immortality arrives only through extinction.
Submit to predestination,yet strive for salvation.Your love of paradoxbegan in Bible study.Reconciling God's wry contradictions
and the ironic ventriloquyHe bestowed on your birthplace:Susurrus of summer cornstalkslike thrown whispers of winter seas. [End Page 97]
With enough patience,the law of parallels is brokenand all lines converge.
On the flat road through Nebraska,heat mirage makes tar bubblelike hell's hot cauldron of boiling souls.
Squint far enough downthe shimmering highway,and the horizon merges
like an atheist at the end,whose hands can't fight fearor the triangle's gravity.
Watching his fingers steeplein prayer, meeting against his willto make a point.
Before our paths merged,before the last miragemelted off the asphalt,
Nebraska just a placeI had to pass throughto get where I wanted to go.
Now I can seepast the vanishing point,where parallel lines
become crossroads,where cornfields and tide poolstilt across continents,
converge,and lean in against logicfor a kiss. [End Page 98]
Daniel Wideman's latest poetry collection, Swimming Pittsburgh, is available as an ebook in the Barnes & Noble nook Book Store and Apple iBookstore. He is author and co-editor of Soulfires: Young Black Men on Love and Violence (Penguin). Wideman served as writer-in-residence at the DuBois Pan-African Cultural Centre in Accra, Ghana, and at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His poetry, fiction, plays, and essays have appeared in Callaloo and several anthologies.