Water tower

by Erik Kestler

Mishwa is the girl in cornrows
you don’t notice at the window
at the back of the bus as you pass through
this tall waitress town.

Not a girl really,
but a town nobody’s ever stepped foot in
off the bus—nobody—except
the townsfolk, those Natives.
If you, daydreaming, got off at the wrong
stop, you could discover a new country

with bare trees that bend to cartoon shapes
against a dark gray wind,
churches solar in whiteness, and weird sisters
carrying shopping bags wide as sails through the streets.

And not a town really, but a standardized
handful of civility
among the clapboard and foggy window
ghetto leading to the town square
with its monuments of the past to itself:

the old courthouse of widening shadows,
the opera house where some minor
heard-of TV actor
as a youth played Shakespeare,
where we were to be reminded,

through encircling, developing years
that all resolves to a square
upon which liberty and society stand in stone.

But Mishwa is also the girl
twelfth seat back, cornrows
standing at attention on her head,
who is now gone. As the sky

is gray and cracked like a cornfield,
and the cornfields out the window spin
like Victrola records,
you realize you’ve missed your stop—

so go to sleep,
head on the pane. In the distance burn
Sodom and Gomorrah and Mishwa.

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