Robert King, a Professor Emeritus from the University of North Dakota, teaches writing part-time at the University of Nebraska. His poems have recently appeared in Red Rock Review, Lullwater Review, and Full Moon, and his essays in Weber Studies and North Dakota Quarterly. His creative nonfiction book on North Dakota's Sheyenne River is currently being considered for publication. Read other work by Robert King published in Weber Studies: Vol. 16.1 (essay), Vol. 20.3 (essay), and Vol. 23.1 (essay).
Another Day in South Dakota
I'm not surprised at the old cars stalled
on the bluff of a missing village that looked over
the Missouri when Columbus, far to the south,
struck land. What's left behind is left behind.
Oil darkens the sunwarmed pebbles like blood.
Nicollet, mapping downstream in l839 and run aground
at Council Bluff, thought the already empty fort
too odd, a ruin on grounds without a history.
The gardens had gone rangey, wild, abandoned
asparagus, rough new horseradish, signs
of people taking their lives along with them.
I walk the vague grass ditches of ancient homes
and wait, since nothing is moving on. A friend
once waited for his vision quest guide in a yard
of junked cars, cans and glass, a fence the shape
of broken teeth, and waiting all morning for no one,
learning that well. Grass cast into the oven,
Jesus once said of the day with a shrug.
The owner below unfolds his clippings of the site,
shuffling them almost in apology for remembering.
Pretty old by now, he says, meaning the newspapers.
When I leave, he wants my name in his book to say
I'm here, and I sign up. I'm not surprised
at how we move, or what we keep, or lose.
Lovers on Northern Roads
Snow laps at the borders of town
as we drive out past the accidents
of wrecking yards, the future hidden
in locked warehouses, toward the west.
All the lovers behind us whisper
promises in the wet hiss of the tires.
We trade our stories until they become
stories, sympathize with each other,
where we went wrong, the highway
threading through the frozen pothole ponds.
Halfway, the bright purposes of our lights
dim and the road snakes with smoking snow.
You say this is another world. It's
ours. We had not expected anything
this serious, an accident leaving us
frozen by morning, no one left to look.
We have decided, without knowing it,
that we could die together in our sleep.
Ahead, a small café, yellow with welcome.
We are relieved, glad we didn't promise
anything to God or to each other.
Winter in this country makes us think
we are alone. We push in namelessly,
every lifted face a happy stranger.
The House and the House
In their living room hangs an enlarged aerial view
of the farmstead and the house within which hangs
that picture of the farmstead and the house, what
the family's land would look like to God, if God came
close enough, or geese creaking over the fields by day.
Here we are, the photo says by faith, on earth,
finely detailed over and over, infinitely definite:
a photograph of something never seen and the only thing
a stranger, coming into the room, would recognize at once,
might even think he was home, hidden from anyone's sight.