Janice Northerns

Some Electric Hum
for William Stafford and B.H. Fairchild

In barren Southwest Kansas, hardbaked edge
of the Great American Desert, natives
brag on empty air, a sky stretching out
for miles. What a shock to find instead
these heavy layers, a dense pentimento
streaked on sky’s canvas waiting to be revised.

Stafford sensed it, too, wrote of touching rock
where Coronado walked, and that clanging armor
sways as Stafford’s words hang on the breeze.
Fairchild later felt the charge of weighted air
as he roamed Liberal’s streets, counting all doors
poems to be opened. Shop lathes sang to him

and play for me still. Some electric hum
lingers here, a multiplying pulse that sets us
down on the corner of Second and Main,
breathing in the same rearranged
molecules, just in different years.

The sky’s so crowded with past vocabulary
that storm clouds spill verbs in the dirt, poetry
pooling underground in a space carved
out by a drained aquifer. Overhead,
stanzas glide on thermals, kite tails of iambs
and spondees shimmering in the heat.

This space masquerading as a mute Kansas stare
unfolds for me now an invitation
to grab hold, grapple with words just west
of the tongue. I catch the drift of remnants
as they eddy and roll, at last coalescing
into direction, a whisper on the wind: Go.


A native Texan, Janice Northerns currently lives in southwest Kansas, where she teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at a community college. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Roanoke Review, Southwestern American Literature, Iron Horse Literary Review, College English, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Conference of College Teachers of English Studies, The Cape Rock, Poem, SLANT, and elsewhere. She is recipient of the Robert S. Newton Creative Writing Award from Texas Tech University.