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, and was republished by Silver Birch Press in 2017. 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.


22 thoughts on “Letter from Kansas

  1. The kid who wrote this can pat himself on the back – this captures not only geographic distinctions but more significantly – the startled response to complete change of scene when there is no returning to prior knowns. Curious where you were before Italy? And was Italy initially likewise a stark contrast?

    Liked by 2 people

    • The transition was difficult. I liken it to sensory deprivation. Everything was different, and seemed muted. The four years before Italy were spent in Copperas Cove, Texas, not exactly the most cosmopolitan of places. Italy was different, but the difference was not as stark, probably because I was sheltered within my family when we arrived. I was fourteen then. I became independent during my three years in Naples, and experienced much more of the city and culture than I would have had I not ventured forth, away from the family. There’s nothing quite like skipping school to wander the fish markets and alleys of Bella Napoli!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Aww, this is really poignant to me. I can resonate with–it’s moving away from home to this weird place that just doesn’t make sense. I also enjoyed the descriptions and the smooth transition in that scenery. Very vivid. Must have been quite the transition and experience at that point.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was born in the old Geary county hospital in jc 1966. We live there til I was 12. Dad met mom over the phone line when he was a communications specialist at ft Riley and she was an operator in jc 1960. Some of the best memories of my childhood are from there in our little house on elm.

    Liked by 2 people

      • We moved to small farm town named hoisington when I was 12. It’s in the middle of the state just 10miles north of great bend, the county seat of Barton county. I graduated hs there. I still consider that my home town.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Naples, Italy seemed like my home town for quite a while, but I think I’d change that to Copperas Cove, Texas, where I lived for about six years (during two different periods) during my childhood.


  4. This captures your dislocation so well. My mother grew up in India and was shipped home as tensions grew in the summer of 1939. She told many stories of her difficulties adjustings not only to English life, but to life outside an armed camp.

    She also told lots of stories about dancing with American GIs in the weeks prior to D-Day….

    Liked by 1 person

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