Twilight Innings: A West Texan on Grace and Survival
Robert A. Fink
Called to Poetry, Abilene (opening paragraph)
Squeezing into the DC-9’s middle seat of three between two frequent flyers and introducing yourself as a poet means you know who will be first to be jettisoned if there is engine trouble and the pilot announces the necessity of lightening the load. The only calling more isolating than that of a poet is being a poet from Abilene. Texas, not Kansas. Everyone knows that Abilene, Kansas, has a heritage of gun-toters like Wyatt and Doc and drunken trail drivers shooting up the place. An acquaintance of mine from a state north and east of here wrote me that he knew my Abilene: “Didn’t somebody back in the sixties have a song about women not treating you mean in Abilene?” He also recalled hearing something about preacher boys from three small denominational colleges erecting a church on every corner. And isn’t Abilene the town with the Cadillacs half-buried nose down like something aliens left overnight in a cotton field? I told him that was Amarillo. We’re the one with the plastic pink flamingos and the all-weather jigsaw Holsteins positioned prominently along the I-20 loop. I explained that our next piece of civic art would be an inflatable missionary, prominent as the Goodyear blimp. I said our visitor center is also considering a series of wax poets-in-residence melting next to the population sign. He asked if I was kidding.