Ghost Out Wandering The Backroads (Or, John Brown Returns To Kansas) by Jason Ryberg

There are plenty of paintings
and a few photographs, even,
so we know someone
fitting his description
once moved amongst us
and has allegedly been witnessed,
recently, slipping in and out of
the fitful dreams of the CEOs, holy men
and politicians of Kansas (running guerilla raids
and counting coup, no doubt).

They appear to us somehow more shifty,
nervous and disingenuous than usual
and, reportedly, state-wide sales
of expensive scotches,
designer anti-depressants
and blood-pressure medications
are through the roof.

They say he observes them often from the tree-line
behind their palatial guest houses,
from bus-stop benches down on the street
across from their office parks and complexes,
from over their shoulders in the mirrors
of exclusive country club and executive washrooms:

his eyes like signal fires on distant hilltops,
like lanterns leading us through swamps and hollers
and piney backwoods on up to Freedomland (glory be!),
like klieg lights calmly surveying and laying open
the meat-processing plants and voting stations
and payday loan offices and publicly subsidized
million-dollar mega-farms and mega-churches
of the over-worked, under-paid,
trans-fattened heart of The Heartland.

He has no visible means of transportation;
he is always just suddenly there and then
just as suddenly not there, and certainly doesn’t possess
quite the ferocious bearing and terrifying tornadic stature
transmitted to us over the years by Curry’s paintings
in the state capitol building.

Yet, there is always a quicksilver halo
of ghost fire around him,
a layer of graveyard mud on his boots
and an expertly tied noose
(with exactly thirteen knots)
hanging from his neck.

And when the time inevitably comes
to raise the question of what
it could all possibly mean,
everyone of these generous job creationists,
these steely admirals of the fleets of industry,
these selfless stewards of the souls of men,
suddenly seems to scurry away to some
dust-bowl era storm cellar
somewhere deep within themselves,

while their eyes try to focus
on some distant flittering thing
on the far, fabled horizon
of whatever’s left of the 21st century
American dream.

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