Poem introduction

Almost thirty years ago I was talking to the Nebraska poet William Kloefkorn on the street one day and he asked me if I'd been invited to read poems at an event out on Grand Island, Nebraska, and I said no I hadn't heard about it at all and I was generally sort of angered by this thinking I had been left out of something. And I said, "Tell you what, Bill, I'm going to go home tonight and write a poem about Nebraska, and I want you to take it and read it out there." And I intended to go home and write a snotty poem about Nebraska and how small it was and one thing and another like that, and I got home and started working on this thing, and knowing I had to get it done in the morning I worked pretty late into the night and as I wrote I began to understand how much I really love this place where I live.

So This Is Nebraska

So This Is Nebraska

The gravel road rides with a slow gallop
over the fields, the telephone lines
streaming behind, its billow of dust
full of the sparks of redwing blackbirds.

On either side, those dear old ladies,
the loosening barns, their little windows
dulled by cataracts of hay and cobwebs
hide broken tractors under their skirts.

So this is Nebraska. A Sunday
afternoon; July. Driving along
with your hand out squeezing the air,
a meadowlark waiting on every post.

Behind a shelterbelt of cedars,
top-deep in hollyhocks, pollen and bees,
a pickup kicks its fenders off
and settles back to read the clouds.

You feel like that; you feel like letting
your tires go flat, like letting the mice
build a nest in your muffler, like being
no more than a truck in the weeds,

clucking with chickens or sticky with honey
or holding a skinny old man in your lap
while he watches the road, waiting
for someone to wave to. You feel like

waving. You feel like stopping the car
and dancing around on the road. You wave
instead and leave your hand out gliding
larklike over the wheat, over the houses.

'So this is Nebraska' from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), © Ted Kooser 1980, used by permission of the author and the publisher. All rights are controlled by the University of Pitsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, www.pitt.edu/press/.

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