It’s hard to see what’s in our blood until it surfaces.
When I drive back into the Missouri humidity after a few weeks away from home, I roll down my window and inhale. For a moment, I’d almost forgotten what we mean here when we say “hot.” Sticky. I’ll admit I even missed it. Tomorrow, my allergies will bloom, and my shirt will cling to my back. Sometimes I think we travel to be homesick.
My grandparents were reading teachers, book salesmen, and music makers who never quite lost their love of cadence and order. They lived in Missouruh. They didn’t say our state’s name like the politicians do — the emphasis is on the second syllable: Missouruh; the uh is natural. It dies on your lips.
For a long time, I wanted to be from somewhere else. I say Missouree. The emphasis is still on the middle, on the process. I wanted to move to a city where I could white knuckle subway poles until my hands smelled like coins. Yes, a city on a coast, not the middle of the country, not a college town, not an almost-half-million with an airport, not a suburb-ish, not an open field marked by rows of life. A city because that’s where the culture was. I was convinced.
I lived in a city, moved back, and remembered the Midwest was in my blood. It took me a while to see the fields along highways not as empty, but as room. Room for me. Empty versus room: it’s how you say it.
In college, I had a roommate whose family owned a dairy farm. After her dad died of cancer, we visited and drank coffee while the morning sun lit the southern Missouri hills.
“He could see a row of cows out there,” she pointed to the grazing slopes half a mile away, “and know which one was which. He could pick them out. Tell you each one’s number.”
I asked if they had names. She shook her head. There were too many.
Tonight I’ll get home and unpack. We’ll take the motorcycle out on the back roads an hour before sunset. The temperature will drop, and my arms will prickle. With the motor rolling like a drum under my seat, I’ll sip the air — cooler, tastier, fuller — beyond the homes. I’ll smell the river.
There’ll be a field on our left where the corn stops and beans begin. On that cusp, crop line so clear, black birds fly (five, ten, forty), and on a good day a breeze butterfly-kisses the corn goodbye and lingers with us.
We’ll pull over to watch the rose sky consume the blue and space fill with rich purples. Watch lapis lazuli fringe fade. Turn back and find rows of trees dividing pastures. Look through their black, spider web outlines at orange streaks lapping up pink bursts.
You live out here to see the sun set like this.