Poems by Charles Fort

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Nebraska Seen In A Purple Light

There was a purple light in the great sky. A man wearing a long black coat pulled a pink hourglass out of his pocket and poured a thimble of holy water into the Platte River. He took a shallow breath and walked into the high grassland and flare of locust wing. What had you seen in the harvest sky on the last day of your wife’s life, her angelic face behind a veil of stars, and all the beauty known in the world in one place somewhere in the middle of Nebraska? Had you seen a purple light move between the living and the dead? Was this the miracle you sought before her dying? It was her pulse dispersing a cloud of embers into thinning air.  This was your widower’s charm, a way to cobble the heart to another’s earthly demise and heavenly pause. Was it her last gift to you dressed in death’s apparel under a carousel of stars, under a parasol of sandhill cranes whistling a mournful flight above your head? They landed on tiny legs in cornfields and ripe soil. A monarch’s wing fell on your lapel. Rainwater filled the cracked earth. Don Welch’s birds tumbled heavenward into the darkening sky. You had been taught well this was the widower’s way. You were left with few words to write and two daughters. You packed their violins. You lifted their piano with your bad knee. You tied and packed your late wife’s dance shoes. The small town and good people of Kearney knocked on your door. They opened their own wreckage of the heart to your own. In their small offerings of food at your front door they showed you the larger world. It was the good ten years at MONA, Afro Psalms, Dance Kats, a Kearney High state football championship, Seussical the Musical, a choir and sad conductor, Alley Rose literary dinners, your children singing for the ghost of the world on the plains at Windy Hills Elementary and Horizon Middle, who became two daughters and Kenyon College graduates. One daughter spoke about her family to Obama and hugged him too. For noble citzens, you were a professor, a black mannikin wearing glasses, who dreamed about wearing a ten gallon red cloud cowboy hat, large silver belt buckle, and looking for a last dance with a hometown girl at the rancher’s ball in snakeskin boots and silver spurs. Your good neighbors Ed and Kathy knew your wife and the mortal kiss too well. The local newspaper wrote you love letters in memoriam. It was your story against the turbulent earthly waters, a 401K economic collapse, early retirement too soon, your UNK English Department cake lying in wait, a long drought, and annual July 4th fireworks on Palomino Road. It was a tornado warning, Thunderhead clouds of Guinness, and purple dust rising over the river, sweeping over the calves and pigs, ice storms, daily high winds, unearthly beauty in the Art Pierce calligraphy of your poems, and river mud caught in a Nebraska stampede. Your last few words written in longhand inside your university office: A black professor leaving Kearney on a white horse, this was Nebraska seen in a purple light, and nothing but love here tonight.

Paris, 2011