Chicago Bound

by Kathryn Stripling Byer

On the day you turn twenty-one,
we arrive at the airport,
plenty of time before take-off,
the rain steady, ugly gray
sky while the radio cheers us

on, Jimmy Rogers and Sweet Home
Chicago just what we need on
this Friday you turn twenty-one.
Come on, come on, let’s get a move on.
I’m ready, Daddy, to leave this town.

I hold my breath while the plane rises,
muddy clouds all the way up
till we come out the other side into
the stratosphere, lapis lazuli and white
shag carpet all the way there.

Nobody at home up here. Makes me
feel lonesome till I see the beverage cart
rolling toward us and lower my tray.
What’s for lunch? Nothing much.
Cookie, sandwich, a small Baby Ruth.

Captain’s voice from the cockpit
keeps telling us how long before
we’ll come down. Soon it’s time for a snooze
while this plane flies us over the heartland
to you in your Shakespeare class,

old boss man Lear raving blank verse,
still crazy after all these years. Just a little while
longer, we’ll be on the ground
where we’ll hop a train south to the campus,
a place I like better than this flimsy

carpet of clouds on which I cannot walk
to you. I need green fields
to do that, some tough city blocks,
Kimbark, Ellis, East Hyde Park.
Give me boulevard, avenue,

chemin, rue, strasse, calle,
avenida, el camino, whatever
you want to call it, Baby, if it’s down
there on earth where you are,
it’s Sweet Home. I’ll take it.

KATHRYN STRIPLING BYER’s poetry, prose, and fiction have appeared widely, including Hudson Review, Poetry, The Atlantic, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, and Southern Poetry Review. Often anthologized, her work has also been featured online, where she maintains the blogs “Here, Where I Am,” and “The Mountain Woman.” Her first book of poetry, The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest, was published in the AWP Award Series in 1986, followed by the Lamont (now Laughlin) prize-winning Wildwood Flower, from LSU Press. Her subsequent collections have been published in the LSU Press Poetry Series. She served for five years as North Carolina’s first woman poet laureate.