Directions in the Nebraska Sandhills

In the wind-flaked town of Lakeside,
I find two boys with a bow and arrows
shooting at starlings in the elms.
When I ask if the Lodgepole road is paved,
they stare as if I’d spoken Spanish.
But the short one cocks his tractor cap
and says the road is all caliche,
that I’d better go through Alliance.

With long hair and a ramshackle car
I must look like the drug-fiend crazies
their parents tell them about.
I want to tell them how lucky they are
to live in Nebraska’s emptiest county.
Ahead of them are shotguns, pheasant,
deer from groves along the Platte.
Then clumsiness with girls, the monotony
of tractors, raking hay.  They will hate Lakeside.
They will buy a pickup or souped-up car,
rumble off to Rapid City, Denver, anywhere.

When they find a place without wind
the air will feel like dirty clothes.
They will find country filled with trees,
but dream horizons.  They will miss
the smell of alfalfa glistening at dawn.
In mountains they will wish for sunset
the way it looks past Alliance, nothing
but orange sky over all their families work for,
ponds like sheets of Depression glass,
trill of a fencepost meadowlark,
Angus in silhouette, more space
than anyone can stand until he leaves.

(First published in the Chester H. Jones Foundation 1999 Poetry Competition Winners Anthology)