Rhapsody for Children of the Midwest by Ben Gunsberg


What a blast! Crossing the community yard,
ketchup on our lips, chocolate milk fresh as a hiccup,
Illinois sky scrubbed peasant blue, our eyes
flecked with pollen. Erik, Devin, Nina, Mike,
race me to the public pool, where sunshine
shatters like a chandelier and lifeguards punch
our ears with whistles. Let’s ride our bikes
to Missouri, where rivers sluice like turkey gravy.
O brown lament, O mosquito, O inner tube
slick as a hippo. Erik, Devin, Nina, Mike,
float with me into the swamp-thick heart
of Cape Girardeau while Baptist churches break
into song. Just passing through this picnic,
this Boy Scout troop, this Vacation Bible School,
sampling potato salad and Christ’s gold corona,
praying our fathers land better jobs up north
in Michigan, where bass and trout sleep in
cleaner lakes and December plasters the shore,
for it’s damn cold today as we don skates,
click across the ice, arms swaying like metronomes
set at different speeds, the lake’s shimmering
scalp beneath our blades, a half-circle of spruce,
a lone snowman engrossed, his future secured
by flakes that share his ontology, which we catch
on our tongues. Snow forgives the ruins of Detroit,
smothers ragweed and wasps, cloud-pricked
Canadian Geese, chain-linked fence. Now climb
into Indiana, beloved corn fiefdom, to brag
about basketball, to step behind the arc and drain
three-pointers, to quench our thirst at Seven Eleven
with resinous Mountain Dew, our preamble
to Seagram’s, which we pass around the bonfire
before basement lights dim and we thrash
like captive hawks. Erik, Devin, Nina, Mike,
you grew up so fast, I hardly had a chance to write
about Ohio. I hardly had a chance to savor Shoney’s
buffet and Red Lobster’s butter. Goodbye, friends.
May you find your voice in the emerging global economy.
Goodbye, I-75. May the deer that line your shoulders
grow wings. Goodbye, two A.M. stars still romancing
Rust Belt cities, backyard tents, public parks,
I have breathed your night air, sweated your Augusts,
biked your pitted streets. When I return, I will again
climb your Ziggurats. I will wait in line with my children
at the base of Sears Tower (now Willis Tower)
and tell them stories about growing up in the Midwest,
this tower, then, the tallest in the world.

Ben Gunsberg is a professor of English at Utah State University. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in CutBank, Chattahoochee Review, The South Carolina Review and other journals. His poetry manuscript, Cut Time, won the University of Michigan’s Hopwood Award for Poetry Writing. He lives in Logan, Utah.