Letter from Kansas


I was a military brat. My return to the U.S. after attending high school in Italy was, well, interesting. Junction City, Kansas was definitely not bella Napoli. This poem came from that experience, albeit a few years after, and was published in the mid-80s in the Allegheny Review, a national journal of undergraduate creative writing. It’s a flawed piece, and doesn’t resemble today’s work at all, but I think the kid who wrote it still exists. Somewhere.

Letter from Kansas

Caro amico,
Driving the stretch to Junction City,
I look for familiar faces in the cars
we pass, but see only strange grasses
gliding by. Three weeks ago
I slept on a stone-littered hilltop
overlooking the Bay of Naples.
Now the prairie laps at our front door.
A mile from the house two corralled bison
munch dull hay thrown daily
from a truck’s flat bed, and past that
the Discount Center’s sign
spells America. What I wouldn’t give
for a deep draught of Pozzuoli’s
summer stench and the strong
yellow wine that Michele’s father
makes. We mixed it with the gardener’s
red, creating our own bouquet,
remember? And here they say
I’m too young to buy beer and wine.
Without them the food is flavorless,
like the single language spoken.
I understand it all,
and miss the difficulty. Maybe Texas
will be better. Ci vediamo. Bob

This was one of my first posts on the blog, and as you might expect, very few people saw it. I wrote the poem in the summer of 1983, when I was new to poetry, still tentative, exploring. A few weeks later I attempted the sonnet form, and, well, everything changed. Everything.


59 thoughts on “Letter from Kansas

  1. This is really good. I particularly like how you’ve made careful word choices so as to put them to multiple use. For example, the flat bed truck is a good image, but “flat” also describes the terrain (as juxtaposed to the Italian hilltop) and also the flatness of the culture by comparison. In Kansas they make meat by throwing hay to bison; in Italy they make wine, the perfect metaphor for refinement, culture, science, and art. Excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I missed the prosaic as much as the spectacular – the short jaunt to the local salumeria for a piece of bread, some mozzarella di buffala and a few grams of prosciutto. The street signs (nothing in English), the sea breeze, etc.


  2. Bob , sono onorato di chiamare il mio amico e di leggere la tua bella poesia !

    Se questa poesia è ” imperfetto “, allora è bello viziata !

    Il tuo amico ,



  3. hello there. I’m not sure how you found me but I”m happy you did. I see we are of similar age, and reading this poem – penned at an age when I was writing poetry and lyrics as well – has inspired me to dust off some old memories and writings. You have a wonderful style and I’m looking forward to being inspired again.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hello Robert. It must have been so difficult being a military brat. It’s nice traveling and getting to experience different things––when you’re an adult. It’s a whole other story when you’re young. I sensed the heartache in your poem. Very nice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great descriptions in your poem. Never been to Italy, but as a military family, we did live in Junction City, Kansas back in 1977-1979. Husband stationed at Ft. Riley. Oh, I think I have a picture of those buffalo, too! …Then, after traveling a lot more places, wound up at Ft. Hood, Tx. until retirement. Thanks for sharing your early work, Robert!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Like the single language spoken. / I understand it all, / and miss the difficulty.” It seems the kid that wrote this is definitely still around somewhere… thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Grew up near Junction City ………. many years before you ever were. And had ties to Fort Riley. I have been to a ranch/farm near there that had the wild buffalo roaming/grazing. Magnificent animals. I don’t know if it is still there as haven’t been back to Kansas for over 20 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Culture shock. Yes. When I moved to MA in the 90s I expected, eagerly, to find that people would open up to me, as I was used to, and would enjoy my company as I longed for that. What I found instead is a different kind of getting along, less comfort with friendliness, more promises than time. I adapted. I loved the public transportation, the four seasons, the beach. I loved my husband’s ethnic family. When we moved back to LA six years later, I found I had brought back some of the reserve with me, the very New England propensity to keep my own counsel and speak less to strangers. Gradually, it has melted away along with the accent that came with it. Isn’t it interesting, that when we are young, we are so sensitive to changes in environment, yet we are more adaptable in many ways. Being a military brat, or a minister’s child, moving a lot, you move back behind your eyes, instead of living in what you see. It takes a long time to get rid of that accent.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A very interesting look at a young man’s life as seen through the eyes of a slightly more mature version of himself. That in itself is a poem in the making, and I have this strange feeling I might yet read it here. You seem to be enjoying the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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