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  Pure As the Driven Slush (Personal Journal)
hard/soft and homespun (2002)

I live in the belly of North America;
my desire has roots here, where my spirit,
my body are at home;
all rumpled, all back-alley-grey, free to roam.

I can travel and enjoy other places,
like them better or worse
but other places aren't home.
Home is here, is heart, not in this town or that,
but under the grass and the streets.
The Midwest is my skin.
Home started here and stayed here,
where in late summer,
it's best to go a day or so without bathing
and go barefoot, watching out for glass.
It's best to carry some sweat that starts and stays
sticky and crass
in the humidity; that glows a little orange-brown,
like leaves turning round.

That scent we all carry, that breath of the mid-continent
smells a little like cornfields,
even in cities,
and only gets so polished. Too clean,
and you're east; too musty, you're west.

It's best, here, to harness your weight
between your hips;
to walk up and down the middle,
with a bit of a sway, but not quite a swagger.
It's best to smile easy, to wear your hair
just a little bit rumpled, to wear your jeans
just a little bit low and ragged,
so that when you're pressed on the hood of some car
or another, in the back of some bar,
your crotch glued to someone's thigh
as your grind and you sigh,
but just this much apart: you press against
that other thigh just as much
as you work your own denim, that fiber tickles and taunts.

It's best to give blow jobs here
in back alleys. Give me an alley,
a dirt road, a couch one spring loose
before a four-poster. Give me
the smell of tobacco and diesel juice,
hands tight in my hair,
the echo of someone's stereo over there;
someone shouting down this street,
someone laughing down that one,
my mouth full, knees sore,
voices hard/soft and homespun.

I was most at home
when I was free to roam,
wandering from one end of Lake Michigan to another
every summer, until it got too cold to nap on rocks
and benches.
Until I got too old
to stomach bourbon with LSD,
or endless days and nights
from one subway seat to another, or
in someone's apartment or other
(we never knew
whose, did it matter?)
the clatter of voices known and unknown,
the smell of Jamaican Gold
lacing the air, it mingled with thick smoke
from factories, puffing grey patterns
here and there.

I was home at home then, in the belly
of the States,
in that broad-shouldered embrace
of city wild,
the taste of homecooked spaghetti
mild on my tongue, songs sung night and day
rang in my ears, flew from steel strings,
from one instrument or another always on my back.

I was free, not knowing, still growing,
free in the way that youth and poverty make you
when you've no real needs, when you're so at home
and brave that what you need is so simple
and it doesn't matter if it's always there; you don't care.
You're free in the way
you only can be at home, where you can stop
in someone's kitchen down some street when you're hungry,
when it doesn't matter whose bed
you wake up in, whose clothes
you borrow, since you'll forget most of today
by tomorrow.

Maybe I'm not too old
for some of that now,
perhaps tempered with age,
perhaps balanced with a bit more quiet,
a bit less dare. A bit more care.

Still, I am home, a bit further north
in miles and in years,
but in the thick if it
still, in the low bellied till of North America.
As much as I bemoan the country I see,
when it is just this land,
more Guthrie than GOP
-- just the home that I house
in the sweat in my hand --
I can never get my fill.

In my heart, in the seat
of my jeans, knees rubbed raw from concrete,
I'm homespun Midwest.
City-gritty with dirt under the nails,
with this voice that punches a hard right but lays low,
and sleeps tight bourbon-amber,
with my weight in my hips
(not a swagger, just a sway),
I'm all rumpled, all cornfields,
all easy-smile ragged and back-alley-grey.

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