One of the things I grew to appreciate about traveling across the country was seeing small town America. There was a time, when I was much younger and in a hurry to get wherever I was going, that I would do whatever it took to avoid these little towns. They slowed me down, kept me from my destination and, at the time, I'd seen all I wanted to see of small town America in my own life. Rarely was I heading for a city, so it wasn't the towns themselves I wanted to leave behind, it was the mindset that seemed to go with them. The mindset might still exist - in my own small town I see evidence of it with a certain regularity - but I've gotten to the place where it no longer matters. What matters is the mindset I have for my own life. Now, when I travel, I like going through them to see what's happening and what they tell me about our country. Those same small towns I once eschewed invite me to play at being someone somewhere else and I have fun imagining what might be, given another life. Here's the poem that sparked the thought:
"Passing Through a Small Town"
Here the highways cross. One heads north. One heads east
and west. On the corner of the square adjacent to the
courthouse a bronze plaque marks the place where two Civil
War generals faced one another and the weaker surrendered.
A few pedestrians pass. A beauty parlor sign blinks. As I turn
to head west, I become the schoolteacher living above the
barber shop. Polishing my shoes each evening. Gazing at the
square below. In time I befriend the waitress at the cafe and
she winks as she pours my coffee. Soon people begin to
talk. And for good reason. I become so distracted I teach my
students that Cleopatra lost her head during the French
Revolution and that Leonardo perfected the railroad at the
height of the Renaissance. One day her former lover returns
from the army and creates a scene at the school. That evening
she confesses she cannot decide between us. But still we spend
one last night together. By the time I pass the grain elevators
on the edge of town I am myself again. The deep scars of love
already beginning to heal.
~ David Shumate
Note: I like what the poet says about his preference for the prose form: "[Prose poetry] allows me to use narrative and lyrical elements in ways that line break poetry does not. I find that it corresponds to my breathing, to the cadence of my heart."
The photographs are mine, taken in Valentine, Nebraska.