Humid summer changed to dry heat toward Wichita,
then to rolling plains where the corn was blue.
I rode past several herds of Kansas cattle
and green tractors in the fields.
Rebekah had said to turn at Asphalt Cross,
count for ten miles of rural road, and their new home
crested a hill as a half-cylinder hut covered in bramble vines.
I parked the Water Buffalo in the pasture behind her house;
found a rock tank for domestic water
and cottonwoods to shelter my campsite.
The summer school wasn’t too far, and the principal recognized me.
Helen and Moses broke from class and we met in the gym.
They called me a ragged beard,
and I was pleased by the way they’d both grown.
We shot a basketball; and my son, Moses,
had a future in the game, since his shots always went in.
Helen said she was writing summer school essays:
I had confidence in them — because I needed to.
Moses rode home on the back of the motorcycle.
Passing the farms, their neighbors
were squared-off faces with dust in their lines,
and their ideas resided in Mason jars —
like ethics captured in season.
Moses said he’d been raised on the hard clay.
That night, Rebekah’s interior meant curving walls
and old objects from my past continuing to surprise me —
scratched tables and plates, an upright piano, and so on.
I called the ranch, and found out Mom was home again.
The second evening, the children got into marital allowances,
which were remembered as twelve dollars a week.
I’d spent mine for coffee and cigarettes;
Rebekah saved hers to buy the piano.
Over the next few days,
their routine left me with time on my hands,
so I kept workin’ on a farm dream.
After dinner, Helen joined me, camped in the pasture.
Both of us were folded into a pair of green-red chairs.
Helen showed me a ten-year-old Polaroid
of herself and Moses reaching up for plates of cake:
me leaning down, my face was opaque …
theirs were six and three, streaming light from smiles.
While poking pieces in the fire, our evening faded —
Helen worried about what the settlements say,
even though I looked the same. I was divorced from her
mother long before the men’s shelter.
Was I treated well?
— I said I was.
And where they’re concerned?
— I nod in their pasture, and say I am.
We let the fire crack through the dusk change;
her horse stood outside the light, and a cat slept under my chair.
Helen asked if I ever dreamed.
“Not often, except maybe the basketball dream.”
“Ball always comes on the right side of the court;
I jump to shoot; shoot and keep rising — it’s an awkward feeling
through the roof, then I lose my fear, and awake in outer space.”
“Does your shot go in?”
“I can’t say that it does.”
“Are there other dreams?”
“Well, I’m chasing Moses in a farm dream.”
“Is there music?”
“He hasn’t finished it yet.”
Then Helen told me about her own strange dream.
I asked, “What kind?”
“Well, I dreamed about the stump over there when it was a tree.”
“Not the seedlings?”
“No, just the tree that I’d never seen.”
I got up, and looked at the stump in the firelight,
again at my daughter; then I counted the tree rings
after Helen asked me to count them.
A night owl screeched overhead through the counting.
“My dream was a hundred years ago.”
“I dreamed about a prairie woman when this was still grassland.”
“Did you need her?”
“I don’t really know if I needed her or why she came here.”
“Is your dream alive?”
“It’s after I’m gone.”
“You’ve gone away?”
“I’ve gone away, but I’m buried under the tree.
And how do you get a tree on natural grass?”
I left the stump, and sat in the chair, and asked,
“It’s a conversation under the tree?”
“You and the dream?”
She turned to the complicated rock tank
with the green black algae line
running crooked to the seedlings.
I nodded for progress.
“It’s the sunburned prairie, Dad: Some of those stones
were hauled to the hillside spring to make a well.
Their work was a rough construction,
and a little water ran off — a slow constant seepage —
and the woman needed a tree; so she planted a seedling
and then channeled the leakage.”
“Helen, this is happening on the prairie?”
“Here on the Great Plains.”
“Was the woman alone?”
“Until she married.”
“Was she pleased?”
“Doesn’t matter — the woman was me and I survived my husband.”
“Who was he?”
“Just a man that went away.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Weren’t you lonely?”
“No. Moses stayed with me as a quiet man at home
till I died as an old woman with my tree in full view.
I’d planted it when I was thirty-one.”
“Was the tree big?”
“Tree’s huge, but my dream had Moses digging my hole.”
I looked suspiciously toward the stump.
“Where does he do this?”
“On the house side. Moses broke our saws on the roots
and dug all the rest of the night with his hands smoothing the hole,
finished by dawn; he’d made the grave signaling my life.”
“You’re at rest in the shadow?”
“I’m facing my home.”
“Jesus! — did Moses stay there?”
“Yes, he remained as a large man climbing his boyhood tree.”
“What else did he do?”
“He watched congenial birds in the walnut branches and wrote
about them over the years, wondering if I felt his new work
or heard the birds. And we talked about our kind of lives —
and the others of sensitive crows and aggressive squirrels,
taking their habits from blue jays.”
“Are there green leaves?”
“Ash green — but Moses was in good weather and waiting for contact.”
“No, just contact like the scattered lights
from other homes, and cold stardust,
and crooked flow from the well.”
“Helen, does Moses live?”
“No, he died when a lightning strike killed the tree.”
“I woke up. And the next day we wanted some shade,
so Mom dug the holes, then we mixed half shells and leaves.”
“Who placed these seedlings?”
“It took Moses all week.”
We sat quietly while the fire burned down.
My daughter returned to the hut and I kept glancing
from coals, to the tent, then over to the seedlings.
After a last nod, I crawled into my tent.
Moses woke me from a farm dream in the morning …