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Flyover States: A Poem

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

Tractor plowing a field.

I took a few different writing workshops in college, and the culmination of each workshop was assembling a short chapbook of poems. Each time I did this, I saw new patterns emerge, from poetry that examined my eating disorder, explored ideas of family, or investigated romantic relationships. Each short collection tells a story, and in a deeper way, gives me a bit of a looking glass into my mental and emotional state at a given point in time. I self-published a book of poetry in 2020, and ever since, I've been slowly but surely collecting a new set of poems that will be ready for the world whenever they're good and ready. You can't rush things like this.

Many of my newer poems are grounded in two things; nature (the sky, rain, thunderstorms, the sunrise, the ocean, etc), and home. They are softer and less angry than things I've written before. They are less emotionally charged and follow a more detailed narrative.

Home is a big topic, and the life I live now in Orange County, is very different than what my life was growing up. The divide between rural and urban America is something that people talk about when say, an election comes around, but I've lived both lives, seen and felt the pros and cons of each. I couldn't wait to leave my small hometown and explore whatever else the world had to offer. And now, I understand the lure of a small, quiet town and of living in a place that can offer some space. Most of all, I've experienced living in an urban/suburban place like Orange County to be both thrilling and exhausting. There are too many people, it's expensive as hell, and most of us wear our egos on our sleeves. But there's also art, the ocean, miles of mountains and running trails, and a whole lot of good people, too.

Paradoxically, there are people here who shun the idea of suburbia while living right in it. We all want to live a good story; to overcome some sort of heroic struggle and come out the other side. Here, we are chronically aware of our stories. Where I come from, most people don't even realize they're writing one, or that their stories are damn good.

So, this is a poem I wrote because there is something unsettling about home being two places at once.

Flyover States

I want to write a poem for the lilac trees that blossom each spring

lavender sandcastles burning beneath a pastel sunrise

my mother cut stems to bring inside

so the whole farmhouse was sweet for a day

and the Midwestern rains rolled like a train while my father yelled

come inside, come on in, do you hear me?

but I'd stay in the rain to run in the mud with our golden brown mutt

who had a habit of murdering rabbits and squirrels

and the whole bleak world was alive and shining

I want to write a poem for the place I call home

the flyover states where land is checkered and square

where nobody cares what you have but they know your damn name

the rugged, industrial flyover states

where the people are prideful and strong

but hate to admit when they're wrong

words are cheap and failure is mean

work and worry are etched in our faces like living calligraphy

we never claimed to be whole and unbroken

home is wherever you water yourself

and none of us here ever asked for help

but when Judy up the road was diagnosed with cancer

the terminal kind, that snaked through her body

then ate up her mind, the whole town turned out

made her casseroles and prayed, and on her funeral day

we laid daises on her casket promised her we won't forget

and goddamnit we won't, our promises are set in stone

later on we talked to God

asked him why a thousand times

but never got an answer

and the newly turned grave smells of regeneration

the preacher looks up and says looks like rain

and my mother brings the clothes in from the line

time is a sticky immutable thing

I want to write a poem for the farmers in spring

who rise with the sun to fight with the earth and grow beauty from dirt

who would feed the whole world if they could

who raise children to dream astonishing dreams

the bigger the better, failure just isn't an option they say

they have scratched and clawed their way here

and they're proud goddamnit why should they not be?

they chose to grow here and nurture a family and speaking of family

I want to write a poem for every man who has a daughter and doesn't leave

good men are a scarcity, and they grow here like weeds

like dandelions in ditches

sometimes we water the wrong kinds of pain

and it won't go away like the roses we planted on Judy's grave

that keep on blossoming spring after spring

tomorrow is a given until all at once, it isn't

I want to write a poem for the big cities and suburbs

who never think twice about the flyover states

the rough, redneck, ignorant flyover states

where we hate everyone who is different, they say

where our values are twisted, and our morals are crooked

and why aren't we bored with the sameness, they say

I want to write a poem so they know we're okay with misunderstanding

we misunderstood the lilacs this spring

turns out they don't live so well after trimming

they do better outside beneath a wide-open sky

in the heat of a mid-April afternoon sun

just like us

P.S. Buy my last poetry book here, listen to all my audio here, or check out Michael Perry, one of my favorite Wisconsin authors, here.


Sarah Rose

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