Musings about life on Earth in all its aspects…

Month: March, 2013


small town


frozen cream shoving
the cap out of the bottle –
whole milk of winter –
its icy Holstein essence
delivered fresh to the door



skating on Shoal Creek –
ice cracks like a rifle shot
and transforms us both
from skaters into swimmers
huddled steaming by the fire


Sky King’s niece Penny
in that twin-engined Cessna –
Saturday mornings
twelve year old boys dream about
pony-tailed girls and flying

sky king


we always butchered
chickens for Sunday’s dinner
pinfeather plucking
wet feather Saturday smell,
blood spatters on the green grass


mimicking the nest
of an oriole, bee swarm
hangs high in the tree
tempting us, our burlap bags,
ladder, and hive box ready



our mulberry hands
bloody from murdered berries –
the stigmata stain
confessing our transgression –
the sweetness still on our tongues


calcium carbide,
water – makes acetylene
and a coffee can
blows its top into the air –
our home-made Fourth of July


cassocked altar boys
serve Mass, their incense burners,
swinging pendulums,
measuring what time remains
with fragrant, even motion

apple tree


orchard’s green apples –
shake of salt tames the sour
bitterness of fall –
we can see our whole summer
from the high crotch of this tree


shelled corn and lye soap
the Halloween essentials
attacking windows
we dispensed tricks in protest
over treats never received



we all ate rabbit
on this one Thanksgiving day
when cash was so scarce
two families’ hungry kids
were nervous as cottontails


penny on the track
B&O locomotive
barreling on through
this two bit whistle stop town
nothing ever happens here


Poem about growing up in a small town in Illinois. Images from my photos and some taken from the web and filtered with Photoshop.

Living On and In the Prairie

September, 1879

Dear Sister,

This land has no trees,
so we will take our house from the earth.
We are skinning the prairie we hayed last week,
removing the sod in slabs two feet long,
a foot wide, forty pounds a slab,
one slab at a time


These blocks of soil are bound
by the tough, knitted roots of bluestem grass.
We carry each one by hand to our home site
and place it carefully along a string-line.

Forty-eight blocks to a tier, twenty tiers high,
almost a thousand sod bricks,
twenty tons of prairie,
will make the walls of our home.

Samuel’s back is bent by the weight of all that sod,
and he can barely stretch, snapping and creaking
as he pulls back his shoulders.

We will use our precious few boards and beams
to support the roof, another two hundred blocks of sod,
another half ton of earth.
We carry each heavy slab across the prairie,
lug it up the ladder, heave it into place.

October, 1879

Sleeping in the open or under canvas
has been by turns peaceful or frightening
as the prairie presented us with its many faces,
as it tested our resolve to live here,
and this new house of earth is strong,
comforting in its stolid mass.

We do not mind that it is a bit dark inside,
nor do we mind the faint scratching
of the grubs that live in our walls,
or the fair but constant songs of the crickets,
their simple harmonies accompanying
the ever present whisking of the wind
as it blows bits of leaves and dried grass,
dust and sand across the prairie.


We have finally unloaded our belongings,
and the placement of our stove
is now announced by the stove pipe
jutting from the roof.
We sit around our table,
Samuel and I in our chairs,
Benjamin and Emma on their bench,
saying grace as the wind whips
the canvas shutters that not so long ago
served as our tent, our vagabonds’ home.

December, 1879

The mound of dried buffalo dung the children collected
is piled under the lean-to just outside the door,
and its earthy scent is now familiar, not at all offensive.
It keeps us warm and dry, lets us cook our food
and boil our water. God bless the bison.

The snow has drifted into place
and is now as high as the south wall.
The mules and cow stand, their rumps to the wind,
blindly chawing at the mound of hay
we pitched to them in the brief lull in the blizzard.


The thick walls of sod are frozen on the outside,
but warm to the touch in here.
Our earth home is blessing us and keeping us
as if its walls were God’s own hands.

April, 1880

It is spring and the roof has sprouted up
in flowers and forbs. Sprigs of airy grass
blowing in the wind make the house
appear lighter, adding a sort of grace to its mass.


The prairie wind has blown over us all year,
as if this place was just another hummock on the prairie,
and now the whole prairie is newly, grandly green,
as is our home, sprouting and proud to have sheltered us
through the long and cold winter.

June, 1880

An itinerant photographer arrived last night,
announced by the jingles and jangles and tinkles,
clanks and clinks of his mule-drawn wagon,
and by his hoarse “Hallo the house.”


After dinner he showed us tintypes he had made
of other prairie families, standing or sitting
in front of their earthen homes.
We recognized our neighbors,
the stern and sturdy Swensons,
and, from up in Russell County, the Chrisman sisters.

Samuel, ever the careful observer,
noted the wistful longing I tried so hard
to keep from showing; but something in my eyes
or in the set of my mouth must have given me away.

So this morning we posed here in our prairie yard,
carried our table and chairs out into the sun,
dressed in our Sunday best, warned the children
not to sit in the dirt or roll in the grass.
We tethered the mules and our milk cow
to one side, and I pinned up my hair
to keep it from blowing in the wind.

Samuel generously spent a second dime,
so that I could send this picture to you, dear sister.
Here we all are. Here is our sod home.


It may not look like much to you.
You are accustomed, after all,
to the frame houses and stone cottages
of St. Louis. But we have lived, safe
and protected for a year, now, in this,
our home on and in the earth,
where we live as one with God’s prairie.

Your devoted sister,
Martha Rawdings

In looking through old photos of sod houses on the prairie, I got to wondering what it would have been like to pull up stakes from a comfortable home in an eastern city and travel by wagon to the flatlands of Nebraska, Kansas, or Oklahoma to live in a house built of earth. This is the result: an imagined letter from a young woman to her sister, telling of her first year on the plains. The illustrations were based on old photographs posted on the web; I used various Photoshop filters and other digital tools to convert them into impressions rather than hard images.
© 2013 by Roy Beckemeyer




From the upper cusp
Of the crescent moon
Three arcs descend,
Enclosing within their arms
Brilliance enfolding darkness,
Curving back upon themselves
They meet once more,
Cusped in closure, and complete.



Being not quite circular
In form,
The gibbous moon laments
Its imperfection, while
We observers simply smile.
With this moon we are content.
Our form
After all, is furcular.




God must have been
In a Jackson Pollock mood
When he was flinging
Meteors and asteroids at the moon.
I’ll bet he was pleased
At the effect
When the dense rock that formed Tycho
Splashed white debris
In that star-shaped pattern
Of rays across
The moon’s pock-marked
Adolescent face.



Hiding in the earth’s shadow
The moon sighs in relief
As it gets to close its eye
All the way for a change.



In a winter cantonment near Council Bluff, on the west bank of the Missouri in the fall of 1819, scientist and explorer Thomas Say tried to collect specimens of the species of ”prairie wolves” that he would name Canis latrans, Latin for “The Barking Dog.”  He and Mr. Peale, his assistant, tried many kinds of traps, with many kinds of baiting, but failed over and over.  They said that this animal had “wonderful intelligence.”

The coyote is clever and cunning.
To get to know him, go to Oklahoma.
Lie on the ground along those red banks
that the Cimarron cut in days
when it was an energetic youth
of a river, then make a sound
like a dying rabbit.

It is best on a cold October night
when Orion’s belt is pointing his path
through the sky and his hunting dogs
frolic and course around him
and the dog star, Sirius, binary eye
of the Hunter’s big hound,
glows and glitters.


Live traps and cage traps and steel traps were no good.  In the end Say caught his specimen in a log trap baited with the body of a wild cat.  The coyote was three feet and nine and a half inches long, and a foot of that was tail.  The dead animal’s pelt was “Cinerous or gray,varied with black above, and dull fulvous, or cinnamon” in color.

I remember climbing down
into a cut bank cave above a bend
of the river and finding the perfect skull
of a coyote pup, so long on the dry ground
that it was as white and clean
as a dead, dry cottonwood branch.

The moon was rising out of the gully
and a family of coyotes had just begun
yipping and howling
and I felt as if I had disturbed
a shrine to missing coyote children.


Say’s dead coyote had hair that was at its “base dusky plumbeous, in the middle of its length dull cinnamon, and at the tip gray or black.”  Its ears were four inches long and “…erect, rounded at tip, cinnamon behind…inside lined with gray hair; eyelids edged with black, superior eyelashes black…iris yellow; pupil black-blue…”

I once watched a coyote mother look up
from a meadowlark nest,
ears and stance all at attention,
yolk dripping from her muzzle,
her fur ruffling in the morning wind,
her yellow eyes unblinking, as if she was
Canis major come to earth,
bright eyes reinvented to flavescence.


“The prairie wolves roam over the plains in considerable numbers, and during the night, the principal season of their hunts, they venture very near to the encampment of the traveler.”

One night I came suddenly
awake in my tent to the midnight
chortling chorus of coyotes.
I pulled my sleeping bag up
around me, as their plangent call
and response set the hairs on my neck
to bristling.  My dog was sitting at attention,
staring into the black night,
and I reached out my hand
to stroked his quivering neck.

Together we listened
to the prairie wolves declare
their ownership of the night,
their principal season,
while overhead Orion quietly
climbed into the sky,
stalking the moon across
the high heavens of Oklahoma.

Quotes are taken from Early Western Travels 1748-1846.  Volume XIV: Part 1 of James’s Account of S. H. Long’s Expedition, 1819-1820, by Rueben Gold Thwaites, The Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland, Ohio, 1905, and are directly from the Long Expedition Journals and Thomas Say’s Notes.


BAGATELLE – “… a short piece of music or verse in a light style” – Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary


On Friday morning, March 1, 2013, I received the very welcome news that a haiku of mine had been accepted by editors Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell for their forthcoming anthology, “Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga,” to be published by Dos Gatos Press ( ) of Austin, Texas. A quite pleasant way to enter the weekend and a warm-up that got me humming and in-tune for the scheduled events to come.

A brief INTERMISSION to move to a new venue: my wife, Pat, and I drove from Wichita to Emporia, Kansas (about 90 miles) for Friday night’s reading from Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s “To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices” ( Some of the poets who had contributed poems to the volume met at Casa Ramos, a nice little Mexican restaurant in Emporia for ceviche, burritos, flautas and other flavorful and spicy Mexican fare.

SINFONIA CONCERTANTE – “a concerto for more than one solo instrument” – Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary


The renga reading was held at Emporia State University and hosted by Kevin Rabas of ESU (!/events/266004003528732/) . Kevin’s professorial prowess and poet’s panache resulted in a quite satisfying evening; he attended to the little extras that make a big difference, such as posting students and staff members at various locations in the student union to direct attendees, having a nicely arranged room, refreshments, tables for displays of books, and a warm and receptive audience.
Kevin first introduced Kansas Poet Laureate Emerita Denise Low and current Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, both of whom talked and read some of their work before the renga reading began. A number of the poets at this reading had ties to Emporia and ESU, which helped to make the event even more special. As different poets show up at different readings, the tenor of the renga changes each time. An interesting aspect of this reading was that there were two husband-wife couples and a father-son pair among the 12 poets who read. The poets read in the order in which their poems appear in the renga; most of them quoted from the poem that immediately preceded theirs in the book and that provided the inspiration for their poem. Reading were: Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Hazel Smith Hutchinson, Bill Sheldon, Roy Beckemeyer, Kevin Rabas, Denise Low, Ken Lassman, Pat Beckemeyer, Shawn Pavey, Dan Pohl, Cheryl Unruh, and Tyler Sheldon. Audience members were attentive and interested, and the reading was a delight for the poets. The ambience remained warm and friendly afterwards, with lots of dialogue and discussion of poetry.
Thanks so much to Kevin for managing the event, to Caryn for shepherding all those poets through the process of bringing the renga to fruition and for turning it into a manuscript, and to Denise for publishing the book as part of Mammoth Publications’ rich catalog (

A second INTERMISSION, as Pat and I drove back to Wichita the morning of Saturday, March 2, 2013, for the final event of the weekend. A beautiful sunny day for a drive through the Flint Hills, which still had a blanket of snow covering the grass from last week’s storms, made the trip delightful.

CHACONNE – ” a musical composition…consisting typically of continuous variations based on a repeated succession of chords ”


We arrived back in Wichita just in time to drive to the March meeting and brunch of the Wichita Branch of the National League of Pen Women ( Evelynn Boal and Dee Smith had invited me to do a program on the topic: “What Prompts the Poet.” As you might guess by now, to get a poet to do anything, you must feed him/her. After breaking our fast with quiche, pastry, fruit and coffee, I proceeded to the program. I had assembled a list of topics that I felt were good prompts for poets, discussed them briefly, then asked audience members to choose one of the prompts, and I responded by reading a poem of mine that had that prompt as its origin. At the completion of the program, they were gracious enough to invite Pat to read as well; she presented her renga poem – a nice ending for a weekend of food and poetry.

– Roy Beckemeyer