Graphic from the book for the top of even-numbered pages

Pawpaws Ripe

The sunny plains of Kansas dozed
   In soft October haze;
The wayside leaves and grass disclosed
   Scarce sign of autumn days.
The corn-stalks bent their ears of gold,
   To list the cricket's din ;
And fields of sprouting wheat foretold
   The farmer's laden bin.

Many a mover's caravan
   Stretched westward far away,
As they had moved, since spring began,
   To where the homesteads lay.
Their wagon-sheets were snowy white,
   Their cattle sleek and stout ;
Their children’s merry faces bright,
   With blooming health shone out.

But ho! what apparition queer
   Is this that looms in sight
Has Rip Van Winkle wandered here
   Just from his waking, plight?
Has one of the Lost Tribes come back,
   With remnant of his band,
And eastward turned once more his track,
   To seek the Promised Land?

Beneath yon shade I'll sit me there,
   Upon that bank of grass,
And inventory, as it were,
   These nomads, as they pass.
There may be reason wise and strong,
   Unknown to us, why they,
Of all the steady moving throng,
   Are on the backward way.

A wagon of past ages, built
   On model lost to art;
A dirty, ranged, faded quilt
   Supplied a cover's part.
Wheels of four sizes, tireless now,
   With many a missing spoke;
A three-legged mule, a one-horned cow,
   Tugged slowly in the yoke.

A man of five-and-forty years,
   With beard of grizzled brown;
A brimless hat sat on his ears,
   His hair strayed through the crown;
His, pants of dingy butternut,
   His coat of tarnished blue,
His feet with no incumbrance but
   Mismated boot and shoe.

Six hungry curs of low degree
   Sneaked at their master's heels,
Or, underneath the axle-tree,
   Kept measure with the wheels.
Packed in the feeding-box behind,
   A time-worn jug is spied,
Whose corn-cob stopper limits the kind
   Of nourishment inside.

Nine boys and girls with rheumy eyes,
   Stowed in with beds and tins,
Were all so nearly of a size,
   They might have well been twins.
The mother, as a penance sore
   For loss of youth and hope,
Seemed to have vowed, long years before,
   To fast from comb and soap.

Halloo, my friend! a brood like that
   Should head the other way;
The land is broad, and free, and fat
   Go take it while you may
Raising his glazed and dirty sleeve,
   He gave his mouth a wipe,
And answered, with a sighing heave:
   "Stranger, pawpaws is ripe!

"Don't tell me of your corn and wheat
   What do I care for sich?
Don't say your schools is hard to beat,
   And Kansas soil is rich.
Stranger, a year's been lost by me,
   Searchin’' your Kansas siles,
And not a pawpaw did I see,
   For miles, and miles, and miles!

"Missouri's good enough for me;
   The bottom timber's wide;
The best of livin' thar is free,
   And spread on every side.
In course, the health ain't good for some,
   But we 're not of that stripe,
Hey! Bet and Tobe! we're gwien home!
   Git up! Pawpaws is ripe!"

He cracked his whip, and off they went,
   The mule and cow, and dogs.
I watched them till they all were blent
   With distant haze and fogs;
And as the blue smoke heavenward curled
   Up from his corn-cob pipe,
He dreamed not of that better world,
   For here pawpaws were ripe!

__Sol Miller
 
Sunflowers, A Book of Kansas Poems
Selected by Willard Wattles
pages 38-41
(Chicago: A. C. McClurg. 1916)
 
September 11, 2001 / John & Susan Howell / Wichita, Kansas / howell@kotn.org

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