Kansas Ballad

by Colleen Wilhite
 
Roll on Silver Chief
Take me back to Kansas
Past the grain elevators,
Giant ghosts punctuating summer lightning nights
Take me back on your rolling rails to the boiled clean, starched cotton air
To grandpa’s gentle tough hands
That out-lasted dust storms, depressions, flashing tornados,
But no Oz at the end.
 
Roll on Silver Chief
Take me back to Kansas
To the smells of canning peaches in the wash house,
Huge white onions in enameled pans on the back porch,
Tiny pies shaped at my spot of sun in the stuffed and fragrant pantry,
To grandma’s talented hands creating
Edible memories.
 
Roll on Silver Chief
Take me back to Kansas
To grandpa, thin, strong, infinitely patient
Until too many grandchildren
Bang on the mahogany stand-up piano;
Photos of Daddy, aunts and uncles atop it,
Too much for an Irish-American ear, he locks it.
Another key opens the built-in cabinet of ornate albums,
The aroma of old books (King Arthur and his knights), and one
Hypnotic paperweight.
 
Roll on Silver Chief
Take me back to Kansas
Let my cousins and me run free in the barefoot summer
Unmindful of stones and stickers
Coming in only when the chiggers take over the night
To firefly catching and 4th of July sparkling
Take me to skip across the warm raised wooden sidewalks of Nokoma
Arriving at the little post office with its bank of tiny metal doors,
Communication treasure boxes,
Rarely, if ever, locked.
 
Roll on Silver Chief
Take me back to Kansas
To pickup truck rides to a hundred barnyard cats
Then back again to crank and crank the hard won cream into
Sweet snow served with saltines from the warm scented stove
To jews harp twang and kitchen crowd of relatives
Back to town hall events and expansive cattle men dressed
Grand Old Opry elegant.
 
Roll on Silver Chief
Take me back to Kansas
To collect eggs from feisty chickens,
To the outhouse and the clothesline my Teddy bear
Came to know too well,
To the cool napping basement, leathery cowboy odors,
Iron bed steads, shelves of summer’s fruitful bounty
Uncle’s balsa wood planes circling from childhood,
Eggs stacked under the stairs.
 
Roll on Silver Chief
Take me back to Kansas
To the ticking of the Regulator clock and its spooky gongs
To pre-dawn air moving ghostly curtains
Dressing in dotted Swiss for Sunday in LaCrosse
To crackly radio weather and farm reports
Grandpa’s rocker creaking, he in overalls,
Long-sleeved shirt buttoned at the neck, arm garters.
To the big tree rope and wood swing where I would
Float and sing, float and sing.
 
Roll on Silver Chief
You proud train with your friendly porters and
    stainless steel basket of treats
Let’s go back over the rainbow
To Kansas.
 
Copyright ©2000. Colleen Wilhite
Used by permission

 
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September 14, 2000 / John & Susan Howell / Wichita, Kansas / howell@kotn.org

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