This tome of poetry by Kay Kinghammer, is a long narrative poem that begins in
Seattle and travels. It is the story of the discovery of America in an old
refurbished Volkswagen van, the Poet and her lover, her son and their dog.
Immeadiately, I begin to hum “We’ve all come to look for America” by Paul Simon
but as you begin to read the text you realize it is not so much about Paradise
Found as the lost America.
The Reader can feel the frustration of the Poet, they are all in close quarters in the van, it is difficult to be intimate, her partner is enigmatic and not very forthcoming, her relationship with her lover is unravelling, the poem begins badly. In the first stanza, “Stolen kisses,/Starlit caresses,/Forgotten.” sets the stage. And things begin to go awry, they decide to stop for the night in Columbia and “Roaring, shrieking, thundering,/The train runs past in the nighttime/Yanks us wide awake, /We are surrounded by men with guns!/”Private property,” they shout/”Get out! Now!”. As they explore The Ice Caves, ““Careful,” you say as I take/My last step, as my feet fly/From beneath me. My slippery shoes/Provide no grip./My legs extended,/In front of me, invisible”. As if out of sight, out of time they are in a relationship that is not meant to be somehow, existing in darkness struggling for the light, a postcard from the 1970’s. This “Secret battle, this battle that neither,/Of us knows we are fighting, this battle/Between love and expectation, between/Resentment and true affection, this battle/Of the sexes, fought by one man/One woman on a cross country journey,/From not quite paradise to not quite hell and back.” In the background the Watergate Scandal plays out and Richard Nixon is deposed, he is the first president in the history of the United States to ever resign, it is 1974. This poem comes from a place of the 1960’s, the emancipation and Flower child days that somehow went awry, and there is the influence of the Feminist writers. The poem is a narrative, although in a Modernist style (with the first letter of each line capitalized), it is a good example of American feminist poetry and draws from the Beat Poet tradition.
Her lovers name is John. As the poem progresses, she begins to use “you” in place of “John”, as if on the one hand it is an open letter to her ex-lover, as well as regarding the Reader as lover, drawing you into the open faced sandwich repartee. “We’ve agreed we don’t believe in marriage./It’s only a piece of paper. He doesn’t know/I am lying. Somehow, marriage will prove/He loves me, I believe. I believe/Wait for him to understand. The miles/Roll by in silence, both of us/Waiting for something, neither of us knowing/What is wanted, what is needed, or even,/Simply what is.” The perfect description of a sink trap relationship, the emotional scapes of unconscious, alone and traveling. Her view of the American woman, “Women then like women now,/Invisible workhorses,/Or sex machines,/No other options” explores the theme of the War horse America. She tells her son about the vagaries of war, “About one who came home/From Andersonville, never the same again./I want my son to see, to understand,/War hurts, kills real people.”
As they travel, they are taking in the historical sites, and the poem reflects impressions of places, museums, plaques, the natural wonders. They hook up with friends, Jan and Restin, who are traveling in their own van, visit and stay with their families, some of the stays are copacetic, some are not. They do not even attempt to connect with her fathers relatives, like too much stage shift, “Grandparents long dead, my father’s brothers/And sisters don’t know me, wouldn’t like me/If they did. We visited when I was twelve./It was not a happy occasion. I no longer/Speak to my father, pointless to visit his relatives.“ I am always struck by the blunt force of truth, the honesty of bones and the bare emotional spaces of the Poet. As if the American dream has become out of context, a place of love lost through the loss of the Old Wisdom of the Holy Spirit and a fracture in values/geopolitics. As if something alive has died, their relationship reduced to road kill on the highway, people on the road, not at home, without their starcrossed lover or more suited lover, the violence of living in lost or misconstrued spaces.
At the end of the poem is the Epilogue. The short two page Epilogue lives inside the dream of the idealized America, as if a reclamation of places of the heart, it is the original poem in redux but softened through the lens of time, a happier place. “We stop at every historical marker./We learn who slept here, fought here, talked here./We learn when, and if they don’t tell us,/We make up why” . . . “I wish this trip had never ended. These were our macaroni days.”
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and MCI Writer's House.
Genre: Poetry, Feminist Literature, Women's Literature