Thursday, November 18, 2010


This morning, while rebuilding a fire in the woodstove, Sweetheart asked one of those questions which turned out to be made of many layers, or staircases, or free-falling...

"Do you remember that song that went "
In the year..and there'd be some date?"

Nothing was yet ringing a bell on that question with the rising cold of the floor boards starting to run up my legs. At knee level.

Then I sort of did. It was 1969. That great pivotal year. I don't think I ever bought the single but when the song came on the radio, I turned it up, and if I didn't, someone else did. And maybe we wanted to hear it again so we could get all the dates straight and what was happening when what was happening when.

It wasn't "Light My Fire" which consumed us years earlier. It was a decade ending tribute to maybe a haunting forthcoming, which if you actually listen now to the lyrics, them boys Rick Evans and Denny Zager were quite ahead of their time. Space rockers. I think we should take off that sandwich board put onto these two and made to wear as the 'one-hit wonders' (though true) and 'one of the worst rock 'n' roll songs of all time' (you decide). Rick Evans claims he wrote the song in a half-hour in 1964. It would take a record label in Odessa Texas (
Truth) to first press and release the song in 1968, then it was picked up quickly by RCA which shot it up to #1 on the pop charts for a few weeks in 1969.

Many covers have been made since: REM, Ian Brown, Fields of the Nephilim, and if you have an industrial moment try on Laibach and their method.

The song appeared (July 1969) one month before Woodstock and Charles Manson, and all within the same year as the first manned moon landing.

Locally, Sweetheart brought it up — perhaps not quite out of the blue — eight hours after I posted a
Birdhouse for Nebraskan poet William Kloefkorn. Zager & Evans hail from Lincoln Nebraska.


I haven't seen Kloefkorn's name batted about for ages.
William Kloefkorn.

Ever since poetry went — well, somewhere else — what's someone going to do with a poet off the Plains? Who knows farm ways and farm stories and who knew farmers, even if he was a splendid teacher most of his life, teaching thousands of children so many things about delight. A farmer with words, planting, seedling, trusting is Kloefkorn all the way.

His books from the 70s, 80s out of many small press midwest publishers were one of a kind. Grainy and pithy and loaded with earthen lust.

Ted Genoways is another name that pulls me closer to the shelf where this book cries out. He has selected and drawn a personal introduction for a barn wide bright collection of poems. I don't think I've been quite as excited for the real deal rubic since I found Millen Brand's Local Lives long ago, yet another book sunk into the morass, or Genoways' own beautifully realized The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernandez. TG sure knows how to pick them.

In 1978 William Kloefkorn won first place at the Nebraska Hog-Calling Championship. I guess this is one of the poet's proudest achievements. I wish I had been there.

I'm going to be blunt. If you haven't read William Kloefkorn, you haven't read.

But maybe that's too blunt — what I mean to say is I can't ever remember meeting anyone from the Plains I didn't like. All good eggs. And that includes up into Wisconsin where the hills start to rise. Pee Wee King was a Polish boy from Wisconsin and somehow convinced everyone he was a true Texan, leading one of the country's most popular western swing bands. On top of that he wrote "The Tennessee Waltz". Of course he played the accordion.

William Kloefkorn was born in Kansas in 1932 and is suggested by me to be a very fine Nebraska poet.


from Alvin Turner as Farmer

I am a dirt farmer
Who dreams of poetry.
Is that so strange? Is anything?
I have bent myself thankfully
Over the heat of cowchips.
When the lespedeza flowers
I breathe its blooms.
The calf I winch to birth
Grows legs like oaks to graze on,
And stuck hogs bleed for breakfasts.
This morning at milking
I kissed the cow's warm flank
And she kicked the milk to froth beneath my knees.
I forgave her,
Then cried with the cats.
Now the manure is in bloom,
Thistles defend the driveway,
And corncobs gird the mud beneath my boots.
Plotting harvests,
I roam my acreage like a sweet spy.


After a difference
We go together as
We fall apart: with words.
They are clear and clipped and
Gently strange,
And hearing them I think
Their sound is like the little noise
Of needles, knitting.


Perhaps one of Ecclesiastes' river
Does somehow begin at our downspouts,
And if I mended them as well as I meant to
The cistern should be bursting.
I have seen such rain, the rocks so clean.
Because I prefer not to think of mire,
Of the chores of evening,
I'll settle back
And contemplate the woman.

I see her with a dishpan
Catching rain. She wants the water
Straight down from heaven, untainted even
By my soldered tin. With it
She will wash her hair,
With it rub her clear face clearer.
She has a small nose,
Active eyes,
And a high forehead that
Under a wrap of hair shampooed
Will smell like rain.

Later I'll use a kiss. But
With words I read to touch it now:
Lightly, like the skimming of cream.
My hand to her brow,
My fingers,
Tipped in butter,
Suddenly rich and unpalsied and newly nerved.


look boys
i don't honestly know
whether jesus wants either of you
for a sunbeam you'll
have to check with your
mother if you must have
my opinion though
i'd guess he has
plenty already like
for instance that one
there on the knifeblade
which by midnight
just might be
sharp enough to saw
lard if you two bandits
will keep the grindstone
you hear me?


When the sap stars downward
Farmyards sigh,
Their sound the drone of deliverance that moves
Like half-slept moments
To the first shrill hour of Spring.

It is the relief of closing in,
The disconnection
Of leaves that echoes human sighs:
The time for living,
Both say, has been survived again.


To say There is always the rock
Is not to forfeit the harvest.
Below, beside each hard place
Lies the land,
Though I remember how one summer,
Wanting rain,
I watched my topsoil disappear in wind.
I called Martha to the south porch,
To the screendoor,
And told her the future, and my plan.
When the end arrives, I said
(And it is just around the corner),
Only rock will remain.
So I told her I'd fight it no longer:
To the conqueror goes everything.
Walking out and into the dust then
I released my hat,
Intending myself to follow it
To the remotest end of oblivion.
But my bootstrings,
Pesky with sandburs,
Snagged the treetops,
So that when the ceiling cleared
I tumbled to rest in a plowseat,
And hitched to familiar mares.
After a recent shower then
The soil turned comic and dark.
On and within it the rock chuckled,
And no longer believing in wind
I joined their joke.
Now late into each year I work the ground,
Burying seedling and seed,
Stubble and husk and leaf.
And the crushed dusty felt
Of the hat.

William Kloefkorn ~ Swallowing the Soap
New and Selected Poems
edited with an introduction by Ted Genoways
University of Nebraska Press