Today's poem is by Christina Olson

To the Stars through Difficulties

"We're off to see the wizard!" my father
keeps saying. On the other side
of Kansas is Denver, and the assisted-living

home he's picked out. The atlas tells
us that Kansas's state motto
is Ad astra per aspera, To the stars

through difficulties. My father's
blue-mapped hands grip the wheel, refuse
to surrender to cruise control.

The land dips once, outside Topeka,
then shoots straight west. The pills
tire him, and outside of Salina

he asks me to drive. When I turn
on the radio, he snaps it off,
tells me to watch the semis.

He reads all the funny town names
from the map they'd handed us
at the visitor center: "Enterprise! Freedom!

El Dorado! Colby, like the cheese!
Manhattan! Liberal! Derby, like the hat!
There's a Clyde, but no Bonnie!"

Then he is quiet for a long time.
When I look over, my father
has fallen asleep. He knew

he was never coming home,
but I did not. I was forty, educated
but stupid. In the Rand McNally,

all the states are scaled to the page:
Hawaii is as big as Montana. Even Texas
gets only half a spread. Kansas is just

another state, long as a life.
In six months, my father will go off
to the see the wizard on a one-way ticket.

I will make the trip across Kansas,
alone. It will be August. It will be
sunflowers as far I can see.

Copyright © 2014 Christina Olson All rights reserved
from the Southern Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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