Roy Beckemeyer

 
Roy Beckemeyer is a retired aeronautical engineer from Wichita, Kansas. His poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals including Beecher's, The Midwest Quarterly, Kansas City Voices, The North Dakota Review, Straylight, Mikrokosmos, Coal City Review and The Bluest Aye, and in anthologies such as "Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems," (Woodley Memorial Press, 2011) and "To the Stars through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga," (Mammoth Press,2012).  He was the Kansas Authors Club poet of the year for 2013. He won first place in the Jim Stone Memorial Poetry Award in both 2013 and 2014, as well as first place in the Beecher's 2014 Poetry Contest. His debut collection of poems, "Music I Once Could Dance To," is available from Coal City Review and Press (2014). (See below to learn what others are saying about his book and where to go to get a copy.)

Initiation Song from the Prairie

First appeared in Kansas Time + Place

 Please do not expect to have to climb
to see more than a few hours of sun.
Exchange vertical dreams for horizontal
ones. Road cuts here have no
"Falling Rocks" signs. Forget switchbacks.
Practice right angle turns. Forget S-turns.
Forget roads that vanish anywhere
but at a point on the horizon.
Finally feel the full weight
of the sky on your shoulders.
Learn the ways of clouds and wind.
Watch for birds that sing while
hovering in air; they have learned
to make do in the absence of trees.
You will learn to make do.
You will go places where you
will be the tallest thing. Then you
will walk a while longer and the grass
will be taller than you. Watch for
the migration of combines; that is a sign
there will traffic jams at grain elevators.
Observe rivers that meander
over the flat landscape;
the people here are also prone
to meander. Learn to ski cross-country.
Learn  how snow drifts. Learn how hills
are just waves of prairie. 
Trade pavement and cement
for the density of tall grass roots and sod.
Find that you, too, have finally become
addicted to the vastness of prairie skies.
Come to know, in the end,
that there is no cure.

 

Night Music 

First appeared in Straylight

 

I always knew trains were

alive. I can hear them still,

pedaling away, all

pushrods and mechanisms.

They exhaled gasps of steam.

 

As they picked up speed,

their wheels would rub

the rails like a wet finger along

the edge of a crystal goblet,

the rails singing their high

pitched harmonies out along

those great lengths of steel.

 

At night the locomotives

would keen back and forth

as if they were calling to one

another - long drawn out moans

that trailed away into the miles,

leaving me with something

empty in my chest,  a hollowness

that yet rang with sympathetic

vibrations, like the bell

of a horn cast of dreams

and overflowing with

longing that stretched,

mile after mile, into all

those vagrant nights.

 

They were calling to me, too,

waiting for me somewhere

outside the small confines

of my childhood, out there

where the rails converged

and squeezed all the songs

of trains into far off whispers.

 

 

It is August in Western Kansas                         

1st appeared in Mikrokosmos

 
and small towns shimmer
into view on wavering roads.
I plane along, windows
down, “Okie from Muskogee”
blaring from the 70’s
as if they had never really ended.
Meadowlarks launch
themselves off fence posts
with abandon, their liquid
warbles bubbling and boiling,
buoying them up on their long,
flat glides across hot, dry,
griddle-flat pastures.
Center-pivot sprinklers
dance a spindly-legged
ballet around the fields,
their moist breath vanishing
into the greedy thirst
of a hundred degree day.
Miles wear away tires
to the smell of hot rubber
and road tar, the wind
shoves the car to the right,
the sun burns my left
arm brown, and the road,
reaches, stretches toward
the horizon forever, as the wheels
of the car spin and push and shove
the whole hot world
behind me, mile
by westward mile

 

What If We Were Just Raindrops?           

First appeared in Music I Once Could Dance To

 

I might fall into a puddle

and make one of those perfect rings of droplets

that look for an instant

like a crown of liquid jewels.

 

Or perhaps hit an elm leaf,

splatter and flatten against the green

to run along the path of the veins

and then cling ever so briefly

to the saw-tooth edge of the leaf

before sliding off into space again.

 

You could fall high up

on the Continental Divide,

not knowing whether you

were going to end up coursing down

the Mississippi to New Orleans,

or S-curving around incised meanders

and spilling over rocks and rapids

into the warm glow of Lake Mead –

 

You always were an adventurer.

 

What if we were soaked up

by the black soil and turned to ooze,

filtering down into the earth

to be sucked up by tree roots?

 

We could end up in a board,

stacked in a pile in the sun,

turning to vapor as the wood dries,

vanishing into the air

to float up into the stratosphere

until POP

we condense as the vapor trail

of an airplane bound for the Orient –

 

You always did want to visit Japan.

  

Tornado Warnings:

First appeared in Music I Once Could Dance To

 
Black clouds shelving off to the west,
the ones south of us climbing each
other’s backs, clambering up
to fling hail at the ramparts of
heaven over and over again -

The rest of the sky a swollen, spitting, sullen
yellow, thunder growling and grumbling
somewhere out beyond the county line,
lightning zippering together horizon
and clouds with white static -

Tree limbs and leaves becoming frantic;
cold fingers of wind frazzling your hair;
huge raindrops, mortar shells cratering
the ground, splattering mud
like shrapnel onto our legs -

Visions of being skewered like St. Sebastian
by wheat stalks and splinters of straw;
curls of wind-lofted dust and litter
clutching at us; the hem of your
skirt caught up by fists of wind -

Trees in the hedge row skirmishing
in close combat; ozone overpowering
the ammonia smell of barnyard;
twists of cloud just beginning
to dance the tarantella -

The mule alone in the barn
braying for redemption,
his mordent moans
the closest thing
to a wailing siren
we can hear –

 

Summer Storms: War and Peace                                 

First appeared in Straylight

 
Give me a good, solid,
grumbling old beatnik
of a storm, one that
murmurs from afar,
that provides a quiet bass
line for the light percussion
of raindrops on glass
panes, the cymbal hiss
of rain falling into puddles,
one with flute-whisper winds
that will lull me to sleep.
I want a peaceful protest
of a storm, a sit-in storm,
a Mahatma Gandhi storm.

She prefers wall clouds
marching over fields
with legs of lightning
that shake the earth
with each echoed stomp,
sheets of rain beating
on our kettle-drum roof,
winds howling like a
brass section gone berserk.
She wants a martial
storm that will keep
her awake, an army
of a storm, a General
George Patton storm.

 

Oceans of Kansas                        

First appeared in Kansas Time + Place

For Mike Everhart

 
In western Kansas plesiosaur bones snake through Cretaceous chalk scattered with shark's teeth under skies dry as drought. Pterosaurs with skulls as ornamented as Hussar helmets once flew here, the salty spray of breaking waves splashing their long beaks. Now eagles, talons extended, wings draped to catch at the scorched air, pierce clouds of dust kicked up by jackrabbits. Ocean silt and mountain rock ground to sand mix here, and the sun reflects just as brilliantly from this pale earth as from those old seas. These hills and valleys and drainage cuts look like arid, lost-water casts of waves and curls. A prairie rattler s-curves over the dusty ground, sculls along as if it could feel oceans swelling up from the past, slips unknowingly through this sea lizard's arching skeleton, and sets the bones to dreaming. For just a moment you would swear the plesiosaur is swimming again, pulsing with power, exulting in every surging thrust against the rolling waves of its undulating life, once more ruling the lost and ancient waters of Kansas.

 

Ka•santatieh

First appeared in Kansas Time + Place

 

For Bertha Ross Provost, 1890-1983

 

Her first nine years she spoke

only the language of the People.

 

Then came the day she was dragged off

to the white man’s school in Anadarko.

 

It was the time when the lands

north of the Washita River were “opened”

and the white settlers, the ista•hi?i,

poured from Kansas into Oklahoma 

to take the lands of the People.

 

She had been called ka•santatieh,

“following with scalp,”

but now they called her Bertha.

 

She had been called tikammac,

“grinder of corn,”

but now she was called Bertha.

 

She held close the language of the People,

the kirikir?i•s, the Raccoon-Eyed,

even as they forsook the tattoos

that gave them that name,

even as they forgot the proud

ways of the Wichita.

 

So many no longer understood.

Her children could hear,

but could not speak their language.

The People were becoming silent.

 

To dispel the great loneliness,

she spoke the ancient words

to the son of her grandson.

 

She told him the tales of the People,

how they were given

the great gift of corn, ni?ac?a.

She told tales of the animals -

of the crafty rabbit, kó•kis,

the clever coyote, k?ita•ks.

 

Now she is gone,

and there are only a few left

who can speak as she did.

 

They gather and recall the words

that she had used to bring the tale

of the Turtle, Buffalo and Coyote

to its end:

 

Ka:?a:wakhát?as k?íta:ks í•ri’ha•ss,”

 she would say,

“There are times, when the coyotes,

they mourn…”

 

The Calculus of Coming of Age              

First appeared in Music I Once Could Dance To

 

Boys daydream in class,

captivated by the supple sweetness

of girls bent over desks taking notes,

the lanky languor of girls

raising their knowing arms,

their eyes filled with answers,

the trembling tension of girls,

their necks taut with poise,

their lips pursed with purpose.

 

Daydreaming boys do not hear

teacher’s harangues

about homework or history,

lose their places in books,

can’t answer questions about quadratic equations,

even though those equations might hold

answers to the secret seductiveness

of girls, their movements as smooth,

as perfect as the graphs of functions

in those math books,

graphs as graceful as girls,

girls as mysterious as mathematics.

  

Fishing with My Father

First appeared in Music I Once Could Dance To

 
We run trot lines at dusk,
push off onto the lazing current
to the sound of slow water
nuzzling hanging branches, dad
with the pole, steadying, me hand-
over-handing the line, feeling for the jerk,
the tension, the twitch, the wet-clay
sleekness of catfish, the skid-plate
steel of carp, mud-thick water
passing through scarlet gills, stars
already straining against the last flush
of evening, the glistening surface
of the creek scattered now with
glints of nightlight, the feel of
tightly-gripped hook twisting free
from gristly fish lips, the thrusting
of a jerking, cold, slipping form into
a burlap bag, the smell of chicken liver bait
almost ripe, the reaching again for the cord,
the line pulled by the current, taut
as our lives, tense, alert, aware, this
unison of purpose, this knowing
how we work together in silence,
and why.

 

Encore                                              

First appeared in Kansas Time + Place

 
the city lights fade behind us
like a second sundown,
a slowly dimming arc
of light born of commerce,
while stars at the edge
of the diminished glow blink,
hopeful of a darkening sky

the sky's blackness
falls all the way
from the vault of the meridian
to that always receding westward line
of earth and grass -
somewhere there are trees
framing the sky,
but out here things are
unrestrained, wild and arching
and open as your soul

home at last, we stop the car,
get out, let our eyes
go wide - you reach your arms
up and whirl around, never quite
touching those stars,
but I am convinced
your fingers are stirring
the eddies and curls of the Milky Way

the stars glisten, as if the wind
or the wake of your arms
were making them shimmer,
just the way grama grass
comes alive in the breaths
of spring's quickening

you twirl just as you did
a few hours ago on that sun-bright stage,
but here there is no clapping,
just my breath catching
as I recall that this is where
you first danced, here,
on this prairie stage -
these same stars, once and always
your audience, your footlights,
your first, and constant, inspiration

 

Canada Bound

First appeared in Music I Once Could Dance To

 

Once, the wings of this dead goose

would have provided quills

for writing poems and prose

about how geese live and how they die.

 

How many stories are there

in the anthology of tales being written

by skeins of skyward geese?

 

The birds, kanji characters stroked boldly

across a rice paper sky,

create chapters that constantly change

as their wings weave them northward,

advancing their plot lines toward

the surprises of their endings.

 

They are building a library,

a legend and lore of geese,

for those who can comprehend,

those who can interpret,

those who can translate the languages

of flapping wings -

or of broken wings.

 

These shattered remains are runes

that record the schemes of eagles

perched in the diagrammed sentences

of starkly bare tree branches.

 

Here, take this goose quill. 

use it to ornament this manifestation,

to illuminate this manuscript,

this Gospel

according to the Geese.

 

After the Storm

 

 

                                                                                   

A Kansas Farmwife's Snow Song                     

First appeared in 150 Kansas Poems

 
Winter weary and all hunkered down, here
with the children and dog this gray day,
how could it seem so far, when you’re a mere
quarter section of snowdrifts away.

Broke the ice off the watering trough, dear,
this morning and twice more through the day,
stoked the fire with hedge wood you cut a mere
quarter section of snowdrifts away.

I stared out the window and pondered,
how the snowdrifts don’t matter so much.
If it were summer’s fields you wandered
I’d still miss your voice and your touch.

At last the end of fence mending is near
we are about to end this cold day.
Your day’s work is done and now you’re a mere
quarter section of snowdrifts away.

 

 


Roy's Book:

Music I Once Could Dance To: poems, by Roy J. Beckemeyer, 2014, Coal City Review and Press, Lawrence, KS. With an Introduction by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Kansas Poet Laureate, 2009-2013.   ISBN-13 978-0-9795844-8-0, 6″ x 9″, $10.

Promotional Quotes:

“Why can’t we remember that first burst of air?” asks poet Roy Beckemeyer in his debut collection Music I Once Could Dance To. Poems and prose poems answer this question, as this wise poet ... time travels through magical realities and makes each breath a new revelation. 

- Denise Low - Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-09, author of Mélange Block

 ***

Roy Beckemeyer’s poetry moves with the surety of the practiced dancer who not only knows the steps but truly feels the music…  Music I Once Could Dance To is a masterful first book.

- Bill Sheldon - Author of Rain Comes Riding

 ***

“Beckemeyer’s first book sings the full-bodied rough, but tender, song of his small town Kansas youth.  An amateur entomological paleontologist, his is a poetry of minute detail, nuance, and image, of poetic/scientific observation, of the insect kept centuries in rock.”

- Kevin Rabas - Author of Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar

 ***

Memory constantly partners with the moment in Roy Beckemeyer’s poetry. Together, they glide a slow waltz across the dance floor of a Midwest at once familiar and mysterious.  Scenes distant in time – a classroom of anxious catechumens, a frozen pond of eager skaters, pals guzzling pails of beer – acquire startling immediacy by means of a single detail: a hand reeking of cigar smoke, the rifle crack of ice, the laconic cadence of unexpressed regret. Other poems lulls us with their “green song of grace notes,” linking the surface of the instant to its deeper layers. Led by images as luminous as a white cotton dress or a “perfect circle of milk” left on the counter, we delight to recognize our world, and ourselves, in Roy’s poems.

- Victoria Sherry - Editor of Timely...Timeless: 25 Years at Eighth Day Books

  ***

Beckemeyer...meditates on his past with the mature perspective of a pilgrim journeying across the earth... What stands out in these rich, resonant poems is the care of craft. With a crisp lexicon and vibrant images, Beckemeyer resists the temptation to overwrite or indulge in nostalgia. He remains judicious in his subject matter and precise in his perceptions...At his best, Beckemeyer rises to aesthetic heights that reflect the rich heritage of the Plains, taking much of his inspiration from Kansas' foremost poet, William Stafford...If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is to seize the moment. After all, it just might hold a music you can dance to.

- Arlice Davenport - Book Page Editor, Wichita Eagle newspaper, in his review of 27 July, 2014.

Links: 

To purchase Book:  http://coalcitypress.com/from-coal-city-press/music-i-could-once-dance-to/

Author's web page:  http://windsofkansas.net/wordpress_51888872/

To read excerpts from the book Music I Once Could Dance To:  http://wewantedtobewriters.com/2014/09/excerpt-from-roy-beckemeyers-debut-poetry-collection/