by William Stafford
My family slept those level miles
but like a bell rung deep till dawn
I drove down an aisle of sound,
nothing real but in the bell,
past the town where I was born.
Once you cross a land like that
you own your face more: what the light
struck told a self; every rock
denied all the rest of the world.
We stopped at Sharon Springs and ate—
My state still dark, my dream too long to tell.
NOTE: For thousands of years, the Midwestern state now known as Kansas was home to Native American tribes. The area was first settled by Americans in 1827 and became a state of the Union in 1861. Today, Kansas is one of the most productive agricultural states, producing high yields of wheat, corn, sorghum, and soybeans. With an area of 82,278 square miles, Kansas is the 15th-largest state by area, and is the 34th most-populous, with about three million residents.
IMAGE: Vintage postcard of Sharon Springs, Kansas, the town mentioned in “Across Kansas” by William Stafford. (Source: Kansas Historical Society.) Sharon Springs is located in western Kansas, near the Colorado border. As of the 2010 census, the population was 748.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: William Edgar Stafford (1914-1993) was appointed the twentieth United States Poet Laureate in 1970, at the time referred to as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, the oldest of three children. During the Depression, his family moved from town to town as his father looked for work. Stafford helped contribute to family income by delivering newspapers, working in sugar beet fields, raising vegetables, and working as an electrician’s apprentice. He received a B.A. from the University of Kansas in 1937. In 1941, he was drafted into the United States armed forces, but declared himself a pacifist. As a registered conscientious objector, he performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946 in the Civilian Public Service camps. The work consisted of forestry and soil conservation work in Arkansas, California, and Illinois. He received his M.A. from the University of Kansas in 1947, and in 1954 received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Stafford was 46 years old when his first major collection of poetry was published, Traveling Through the Dark, which won the 1963 National Book Award for Poetry. The title poem is one of his best known works. Stafford’s poems are typically short, focusing on details of daily life. Stafford said in a 1971 interview, “I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along.” He kept a daily journal for 50 years, and composed nearly 22,000 poems—about 3,000 of these were published. Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford was released by Graywolf Press in 2014.