My Kansas author for November, 2005, is again Gene DeGruson.  The theme for the Kansas Authors' Club Contest this year was: Southeast Kansas: Who Walked These Trails.  So  I wrote both a poem and an essay on Gene DeGruson, who was one of my best friends among Kansas writers--and the best from Southeast Kansas.  I did not win with either, but it brought Gene strongly back to mind, which leads me to feature him again as my Kansas author of the month.  I will include the poem I wrote, "Camp 50," here, and both poem and prose article, "Gene DeGruson--Poet Laureate of the Little Balkans," with my earlier item on Gene (April-May, 2002), which includes the complete text of his book of poetry, Goat's House, published by the Woodley Press in 1986, but out of print for years.

----------Cover of Goat's House

Gene DeGruson---------Goat's House

A special book of poems,
Goat's House, by Gene DeGruson,
Presents a whole cast of characters
Who once walked the trails
Of Southeast Kansas.
As in the one-of-a-kind journal
He edited in the '80s,
The Little Balkans Review,
It is that sub-region he emphasizes,
And, still more specifically,
He tells stories he's heard since he was a boy
Growing up in Camp 50
A coal-mining town near Arma
Where, early in the century,
The miners were all immigrants--
But from across Europe--aliens from each other.
Both of Gene's grandfathers were miners from France,
And, following them, his father died of black lung disease.
Even within the family there were aliens.
A dying grandmother,
Who had "stubbornly resisted
the language until refusal became habit,"
Might speak in "a secret tongue I could not share,"
Trying to reach a puzzled grandson,
Giving him "strange gifts,"
A "Tricolored ribbon, a centime piece."
Some are reported stories of the old days
When Alexander Howat led the union attacks
Against the scabs, and "In '21,
[Gene's] mother . . . at seventeen
marched for Alexander Howat to bust the scabs
who worked the mines in place of the fathers."
And the values of these men and women of Camp 50
Shaped the life of this poet,
Who became a distinguished professional historian
Of Southeast Kansas at Pittsburgh State University,
And who gathered these stories
Of those who had walked the trails
Of Southeast Kansas, at Camp 50,
While walking those trails himself.
Gene DeGruson--Poet Laureate of the Little Balkans

        No one could be more the product of Southeast Kansas than Eugene Henry DeGruson.  Born in Girard October 10, 1932, he died of a cerebral aneurysm on June 18, 1997, at age 64, in a hospital in Joplin, Missouri, and, as Charles Cagle tells us, "is buried in Union Cemetery, a quiet country place northwest of Pittsburg."1  He reached out from that center in many ways, but certainly Pittsburg State University became the center of his life.
        He was born of French immigrants to Southeast Kansas on both sides.  His father, Henry DeGruson came from France as a one-year-old boy with his father, a French coal miner who found work as a coal miner in Kansas.  However, "His wife refused to leave France.  He returned three times before she would consent to come, and she refused to learn the language.  By that time, 1912, the boy, not yet 10, had crossed the ocean five times."2  This son, Gene's father, also became a coal miner.  Gene's mother was Clemence Merciez, whose father was also a French immigrant and coal miner, and whose own mother never learned to speak English, either, which adds a poignancy to the title poem of Gene's book of poetry, Goat's House.
        Thus, the son and grandson of coal miners, he grew up in Camp 50, a coal mining community just west of Arma in Crawford County, and on a farm near Weir.  He graduated from Crawford County Community High School in Arma, then Pittsburg State University, where he earned two degrees, B.S.Ed (1954) and M.S. in English (1958).  He did graduate work in bibliography at the University of Iowa (1958-60, 1963-64).  He taught at Highland Park High School in Topeka (1953-57) and was active in Topeka Civic Theatre, where he had the lead in Teahouse of the August Moon.  After he returned to Pittsburg, he continued to be active in theatre, both as director and actor, translating Moliere's The Doctor in Spite of Himself for the Tent-by-the-Lake Theatre and then playing the lead in 1961, for example.
         He came home to join the Pittsburg State University faculty as instructor in English in 1960, when his father was dying of black lung disease.  Then in 1968 he became a professional historian, when asked to become Special Collections Librarian for Southeast Kansas materials at the Leonard H. Axe Library at PSU, a position created for him, at first, "to catalog the papers of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, a radical Girard publisher. . . . a pioneer, the first to see the promise of paperbacks, [whose] Little Blue Books--5-cent, throwaway editions of the classics--became famous."3
        This turned out to be quite a project, one thing leading to another as Gene used his special interest in his region and his position as librarian in tracking, recording, and preserving the history of the area and state most of his life, until he became known as the most knowledgeable historian on Southeast Kansas, his collection a center for research on the region.  In 1981 he was appointed University Archivist.  Later, after a fantastic find of early papers of the important socialist magazine the Appeal to Reason (published in Girard), which had serialized the first edition of Upton  Sinclair's The Jungle, he engaged in the laborious project of reconstructing that work (he tells the story in the introduction) , which finally led to the publication of his  "The Lost First Edition."4   It was as a regional historian, and based on some of the editorial and bibliographical work that came out of that that he was best known professionally.
         Again building on this regional base, one of his most distinguished literary achievements was as the editor, and particularly the poetry editor, of The Little Balkans Review (which used his home address as address) for nine years, 1980-89  (The Christian Science Monitor called it one of the three best regional magazines in the country).  The cover of the first issue, in the fall of 1980, featured Independence native, playwright William Inge, and the emphasis was always on Kansas, and particularly Southeast Kansas, authors.
         But it is as a poet of Southeast Kansas that I would like to emphasize his achievement.  In 1986, Gene won the first Robert E. Gross Memorial manuscript competition sponsored by the Woodley Press, at Washburn University in Topeka, with a book of poems.  That volume, Goat's House, is a special tour of one man's memories, of the stories he heard growing up and the people he grew up among, captured by the imagination of a writer who recreated their idiom, their humor, their sorrow and hard times, their joys, their eccentricities.  A printing of 500 was soon sold out and a second printing added seven more poems (and a picture of Gene drawn by Grandma Layton, who had become a good friend, which was used as frontispiece).  That second edition, too, soon sold out, so the book has been out of print for years (but is now available below5).
        Goat's House, as Denise Low describes it in her introduction, is unified in its subject matter: "Basic to virtually all his work is an impulse to save the past . . . of Southeast Kansas, the 'Little Balkans' of myriad nationalities.  This mining area also provides the context for the poems in this volume.  Unlike much recent contemporary poetry, DeGruson's work is narrative rather than lyric; he relates stories, not his own musings.  And these stories revolve around his community, from the labor leader Alexander Howat to an anonymous Polish immigrant. . . . Goat's House includes stories from DeGruson's own rich past as well as those from the past of the region. . . . DeGruson recounts numberless anecdotes about common folk who contributed to the Little Balkans in their own ways.  In addition, he restores to our collective memory the national history made during mining days and during the formation of labor unions."6
      The poetry in the book is divided into three sections (with all but two of the thirty-three poems dedicated each to a different friend, mostly from Southeastern Kansas):


        The first section presents Gene's own memories as a boy in Camp 50, surrounded by people, including family, who were new immigrants, of many races, so some very strange characters, from the gypsies who frighten his mother, for fear they'll steal her child, in the first poem, to Felix Janeskie, the Polish bachelor whose phrenological drawings of his neighbors and other peculiar habits no one understood, to Old Lady Bob who, after a first failure ("broke both legs"), still thought she could fly, to Theresa, the woman of many affairs, who, now 71, has memories of the past, when "Sicilian deceit was sweet."   The title poem explains both the title of the book and the sub-title of this section, and offers a perceptive picture of a boy's puzzled relationship to his dying grandmother:

Goat's House
So many women did not want to come here,
including my grandmother, who loved France.
It was stark then, the landscape, without trees,
smogged by smelters which promoters called
prosperity.  Although timid, she stubbornly
resisted the language until refusal became a habit.

Thus there was always a translator present
When she talked to those of us born in the new country.
You could tell from her eyes that something was lost,
but we impatiently hurried off to play
when her questions or comments didn't make sense,
irrelevant, like going to the goat's house for wool.

On her deathbed she gave me things and crooned
their mysteries in a secret tongue I could not share:
a Tricolored ribbon, a centime piece, a celluloid
doll that drank from a bottle with a long, long
tube which ran to the nipple: strange gifts
for a child who did not know why she gave.


        The second section is more historical, gathering stories told by older residents of Camp 50 about the old days in the mines, focusing on the union activity in the coal mines, with stories by those who had marched with Howat, the union organizer, and attacked the scabs: ("The first scab to come out of the air shaft was the superintendent, the first of forty-two men to get whipped that day.") Then other stories of cave-ins, deaths in the mine and the lives of widows.  But there is also an underlying humor, as in the fighting over "the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit" in "Hometown Burial," and irony, as in the portrait of Agnes Howat, presented as her husband remembered her.  The most personal touch in this section would seem to be in "Alien Women" (dedicated to Clemence Merciez DeGruson, his mother).  Its first stanza reads:

Alien Women
In '21, my mother still herself
at seventeen marched for Alexander
Howat to bust the scabs who worked
the mines in place of the fathers
and husbands of the thousand women
who marched with her carrying
their men's pit buckets filled
with red pepper to throw in the eyes
of the poor scabs who cursed back
in English to their Slovene, German,
French, and Italian over
the State Militia's rifle fire.

        Gene still lived with his mother, and the second stanza tells how "It's all dim in her mind now."  She doesn’t remember what a force that "Army of Amazons" was.


        The third section is more general, from warning "the unsuspecting bride" against planting trumpet vines to a fantastic description of "The Garden of Eden" in Lucas, Kansas (dedicated to Elizabeth Layton, this and the last poem, "Clark County Digression," probably the only two not set in Southeast Kansas).  These poems are more various, but the characters still mostly unusual people who caught Gene's imagination.  The one I like best is:

The Stranger in Her Room
It was illogical
that she should enter her own house
to find him, a stranger, sitting in the dark.
But there had been such a sunset
he wandered in to use a window,
turned off the lamp to watch the sky,
and when it died he watched it still,
not hearing her steps, not realizing
her incomprehension of his sitting in the dark,
a smiling stranger, whose privacy
had been invaded.
        I think of Gene's house, which he called "The Castle," in its museum quality, as epitomizing his interest in the exotic in Southeast Kansas.  It was unique, "a 57-year-old concrete castle with a corrugated steel 'umbrella' on top . . . designed and built by one of Pittsburg's most remarkable characters, lawyer A. Staneart Graham. . . . He built his house with railroad rails for structural supports, and debris of all sorts for the rest."7   Gene loved that house, and collected things there.  He was on the Woodley Press board of directors the last few years of his life, and they came to schedule summer meetings there, car-pooling the 200 miles routinely for the pleasure of having Gene as host, and guide through that museum of Southeast Kansas.
        Again as Charles Cagle tells us, "a pin oak was planted in memory of Gene on the northwest side of Axe Library,"8  and "a large black-granite stone marks his grave, and under his name are etched a picture of his one-of-a-kind home ('The Castle') a sunflower and the following inscription: 'Beneath this rock and soil lies a lost Southeast Kansas treasure.'"9
        But the record of Gene's life is still available in the Special Collections he built over the years at Pittsburg State University, in The Little Balkans Review that he edited in the '80s, in the special editing work he did on the revised edition of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and especially in his own book of poetry, Goat's House, grounded in the history and folklore of The Little Balkans--but perhaps most of all in our memories of that open and generous spirit who, in his turn, walked the trails of the Southeast Kansas he loved.
General Note: I am particularly indebted for factual information to two articles by Zula Bennington Greene (Peggy of the Flint Hills), Gene's good friend from his Topeka Civic Theater years until her death (to whom he dedicated Goat's House), published in The Topeka Capital-Journal, Thursday, August 28, 1986, when the book was first published, and then Tuesday, January 20, 1987, when a second edition was printed, and, more particularly, an excellent, fact filled, article by Gene's friend and colleague, Charles Cagle, published in The Pittsburg State University Magazine, Fall, 1997, shortly after Gene's death. pp. 8-10, 16.

 1Charles Cagle, "A Lost Treasure," Pittsburg State University Magazine, Fall, 1997, p. 8.
 2Zula Bennington Greene, "Peggy of the Flint Hills," The Topeka Capital Journal, August 28, 1986.
 3Adam Rome, "For the Love of  Kansas," The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, Sunday, September 27, 1987.
 4Gene DeGruson, The Lost First Edition of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (Peachtree Press: Atlanta,
       Georgia, 1988), pp. xiii-xxxi.
  6Denise Low, "Introduction," Goat's House (Woodley Press, Washburn University, Topeka, 1986), p. ix.
 8Cagle, 10
 9Cagle, 8

Gene DeGruson's Goat's House

Gene Degruson's book of poems, Goat's House, was published by The Woodley Press in 1986, but had already been out print for years (after selling out two printings) when Gene died June 18, 1997.  He was a very special friend to The Woodley Press, was on the Board of Directors for years, and we sometimes met at his unique home in Pittsburg, Kansas.   He had published many other things, particularly The Little Balkans Review, which he edited for years, and an acclaimed edition of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle based on special research.  And, a good friend of Elizabeth Layton, he was working on a collection of her poetry, which the press was to have published.  But he did not have a book of poems, plays, or stories in print, so I have not featured him as one of my "book in print" Kansas authors here on my web site.

Since I am modifying my own guidelines this year, however, I decided not only to feature Gene for April, with three of the poems and Denise Low's Introduction, but, with the consent of his family, now, in May, present the whole text of Goat's House, for which we get frequent requests, so it will be available again--at least on the internet.  Here it is:

_____Cover of Goat's House______Titlepage of Goat's House


        The author is indebted to Charles Fedell, Marjory Graflin, Thomas Bunskill, Frank Caput, Vance Randolph, Mary Molek, and Margaret E. Haughawout, among others, for folkloristic and historical elements utilized in these poems, as well as to articles from the Girard Press, Pittsburg Headlight, Kansas City Star, and the Appeal to Reason.  Mary Heaton Vorse is quoted in "King of the Miners," p. 31.
        Special thanks must be extended to Charles H. Cagle, Charles W. Dobbins, Al Ortolani, Jr., Stephen Meats, and Virginia Laas for reading portions of the work-in-progress, and to my editors, Cynthia Pederson, Celia Daniels, and Denise Low.  It was Bill Dobbins who brought to my attention the proverb used by Miss Mary Allen in her high school classroom in Arcadia, Kansas, when she could not answer a student's question: "You've come to the goat's house for wool."
        I should not omit from these thanks my mother, who always took a curious child with her on visits to friends and relatives throughout the region known as the Little Balkans of Kansas and who has shared with him her thoughts and memories over the years.
        Certain of these poems appeared earlier in Bitterroot (Menke Katz, editor), Crazy Horse (Philip Dacy, editor), Kansas Quarterly (W.R. Moses and Harold Schneider, poetry editors), Little Balkans Review (Gene DeGruson, poetry editor), Midwest Quarterly (Rebecca Patterson and Michael Heffernan, the consecutive poetry editors), Ozark Mountaineer (Edsel Ford, poetry editor) and South and West (Sue Abbot Boyd, editor).  I am appreciative of their help and encouragement.  "Dog Days in the Coal Camp" and "Shoes, Egg Shells, and Carefully Labeled Heads" appeared earlier in Confluence: Contemporary Kansas Poetry, edited by Denise Low (Lawrence, Kan.: Cottonwood Press, 1983).
        This volume was designed by Martin J. Graham of Washburn University, printed by Hawley Printing and bound by Western Bindery of Topeka, Kansas.
        This revised second printing of 500 copies is supplemented with new poems and a drawing by Elizabeth Layton of Wellsville, Kansas, typeset by the author on 9 November 1986 at Words and Pictures in Triumvirate Regular, with titles in Triumvirate Heavy, and published by the Woodley Memorial Press of Washburn University Topeka, Kansas 66621, Robert N. Lawson, editor.
        The cover design is by Rod Dutton of Words and Pictures, Inc., Pittsburg, Kansas.  The portrait of Gene DeGruson on page [54] is by Ted Watts, of the Ted Watts Art Studio, Oswego, Kansas.

Copyright  ©  1986 by Gene DeGruson.  All rights reserved.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

ISBN 0-939391-06-6


        In the fall of 1985, the Robert E. Gross Memorial Manuscript Competition was established.  This competition was designed not only to encourage those writing poetry and to provide an avenue for publication, but also to promote poetry statewide.  With prize money donated by Karen Roth, wife of the late Robert Gross, this competition was named in honor of this graduate of Washburn University.  Robert Gross attended Washburn from 1977 to 1980, during which time he was active as a member of Headwaters Writers Organization and served as well as an editor of four issues of Inscape.  His publications include fiction and poetry in Inscape and 30 Kansas Poets.  Mr. Gross was graduated cum laude in the summer of 1980 and left soon after to live and write in California.  He died on October 6, 1984, in San Francisco.
        For Robert Gross, as for many of us, the struggle toward establishing a reputation as a writer and pursuing publication proved to be a frustrating experience.  From across the state of Kansas, the many submissions to this competition reflected this struggling spirit and a sense of perseverance.  This winning volume is dedicated, in part, to the memory and spirit of Robert E. Gross.

Cynthia S. Pederson
Manuscript Editor

This volume is dedicated
with love, respect, and admiration
to Zula Bennington Greene.

Unseen Change, drawn by Elizabeth Layton  viii
Introduction, by Denise Low    ix
      I.  Still an Alien
The Gypsies    5
The Biggest Kite in the World   6
First Flight    8
Shoes, Egg Shells, and Carefully Labeled Heads    9
The Dream  10
Dog Days in the Coal Camp 11
The Funeral 12
The Franklin Faith Healer 13
Goat's House 14
Theresa 15
     II.  Homage to Alexander Howat
The March on Cherokee 21
Alien Women 22
After the Cave-In 23
The Worrier 24
Found Poems 25
Widow's Income 26
Frank Caput Remembers Howat 27
No Prize 28
The Widow Makes a Statement 29
The King of the Miners 31
Deserted Homestead 32
Hometown Burial 33
Highly Sophisticated Swedes 34
Agnes Howat 35
     III.  A Stone Doorstep
Warning 41
Another Landscape 42
The Garden of Eden 43
Catfish Legacy 45
The Stranger in Her Room 46
The Visit 47
Miss Haughawout Remembers E. Haldeman-Julius 48
Mockingbirds and Saloons 49
The Policeman 51
Mother Jones 52
Clark County Digression 53

Drawing of Gene DeGruson by Elizabeth Layton


       Gene DeGruson long has been respected in the Midwest as a publisher and editor of The Little Balkans Review and as an active librarian, but most of all as an historian.  Basic to virtually all his work is an impulse to save the past.  The Little Balkans Review, for example, in addition to publishing contemporary literature, has been a vehicle for uncovering the background of Southeast Kansas, the "Little Balkans" of myriad nationalities.  This mining area also provides the context for the poems in this volume.
        Unlike much recent contemporary poetry, DeGruson's work is narrative rather than lyric; he relates stories, not his own musings.  And these stories revolve around his community, from the labor leader Alexander Howat to an anonymous Polish immigrant.  His chronicles always sustain our interest, either by focusing on one person or by quoting or even by relating incidents from newspapers ("found" poems).
        Goat's House includes stories from DeGruson's own rich past as well as those from the past of this region.  The title poem, in fact, is derived from a Balkans saying: "You've come to the goat's house for wool."  This proverb responds to a question to which a speaker has no immediate answer.  However, a reader has not "come to the goat's house for wool" in opening this book.  DeGruson recounts numberless anecdotes about common folk who contributed to the Little Balkans in their own ways.  In addition, he restores to our collective memory the national history made during mining days and during the formation of labor unions.
        And in the telling, the narrator reveals himself.  He uses a rich language for the history that he loves so well.  The poems pass on bits of wisdom; so many of them read like parables.  The narrator's involvement in many diverse cultures--French, Swede, Italian, Eastern European--leads to tolerance and celebration of humankind.
        DeGruson's intrigue with history began with curiosity about his French grandmother:

On her deathbed she gave me things and crooned
their mysteries in a secret tongue I could not share:
a Tricolored ribbon, a centime piece, a celluloid
doll that drank from a bottle with a long, long
tube which ran to the nipple: strange gifts
for a child who did not know why she gave.
Years later, as an adult, Gene DeGruson has embellished this exotic inheritance.  By adding to this child's collection, he shows that he has come a long way towards understanding his grandmother's gifts.  And he offers this collection to us.

Denise Low
Lawrence, 1986



        "This place, then, this Kansas, with its rich ethnic mix, its political tumult, and its flavors of the old western frontier, was home to [Vance] Randolph for the first twenty years of his life.  There's a sense, too, in spite of the long Ozark residence, in which he never left.  In 1946, for example, . . . he writes to his closest Pittsburg friend, Ralph Church: 'There comes a time when a man needs to be with people of his own kind.  I like these Ozarkers better than any people I ever knew, but after all they are not my people.  Despite the twenty-five years I have spent here, I am still an alien'."--Robert Cochran, Vance Randolph: An Ozark Life (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), p. 20.
For Bess Spiva Timmons

Their wagons clambered into view
so suddenly I had no time when Mama
cried to hide or come inside
so I crowded among the lilacs
with her tales of stolen children

while she feared the slight
whiskered man and ear-ringed women
in careless colors who smiled their way
up to our house in the fading sunlight
and cajoled.  For what she didn't know

since her son was beyond her in the lilacs,
her husband working night shift at the mines,
and behind her was the unlocked kitchen door,
unwatched, except possible by those
who crept to try its knob.

They left.  She made my eight years
sleep with her that night, waking me
with her paralyzed No No No
as her dream fortune was smilingly told
and their wagons left, bulging with lilacs.


For Charles Cagle

A young buck heard about the kite
and decided to build a bigger one
right there in Chicopee.
And he did.
But before letting the world know about it,
he and his buddies decided
they'd better try it out first.
It flew all right, but they didn't know
if flying the biggest kite in the world
was enough to impress their elders
who might scoff at such a damned fool thing.
So one cub suggested
The attention-getting added excitement
of affixing explosives to the tail--
which was no problem for kids
in a coal mining camp: it was done.
The added weight was compensated for,
but barely
had the kite
with three sticks of dynamite
hovered into the sky
than it swerved downward.
The boys ran,
pulling it hard across the tracks
and (before they realized it)
past St. Barbara's Church among the shacks
where old women cursed them
to get the goddamned thing out.

And, of course, it landed
on a house.
had the presence
to give the rope a tug
before it blew, but a six-foot hole
in the street and broken windows
all over town
reinforced old wives' views
that people
just don't keep an eye
on their kids anymore
while the town's few old men
rumbled expletives
that are better not mentioned
in present company.


For Mary Goble Kennedy

    "I can only record pity for any of you who got through childhood without exposure to that rocket of the stars known as the Giant Strides.  What it was--and you don't have to take my word for it--was 'a revolving disk attached horizontally to the top of a pole, with pendent ropes, holding to one end of which it is possible to take strides or leaps of thirty feet or more.'  As I knew the Giant Strides (at Lowell Elementary, where they later raised chickens and now store hay), it had chains instead of ropes, each ending in a stirrup-like iron grip which was too hot to handle in the summer and too cold to hold in the winter, but which could raise a mighty wale on your noggin in any season."

--Edsel Ford
Such jubilation when the school board
bought the Giant Strides, despite the fact
that Eldor' Ann broke her arm on the first
trial run: although as large as us,
she was much too small to cause
such great alarm when fun and newness
were the thing, though dangerous.
Forgotten were her arm, run sheepy run,
the bats, the ball, and whose turn first:
of only care were six chained handles
that hurled six of us in turns beyond
the district school house, classes, home,
into a sky where stifled breath and dizziness
of heart were all wee knew of earthliness
and all wheee cared to know. . . .


For Shelby Horn

Felix Janeskie, the Bachelor, was as much a hermit
as life would permit.  He papered his walls with covers
of poultry magazines; he had known a woman once,
according to Marie Pernot, who asked; he could be
counted upon to have the latest Sears & Roebuck
catalog.  When he died, each room of his shack
overflowed with shoes, egg shells, and catalogs
stuffed with phrenological drawings--chart after chart
labored in Polish: the physiognomies of each neighbor
blocked off into realms concealed from us by hair--
a mad, mystical, meaningless mess which was shoveled
into a well, capped clean, his house demolished, the land
leveled.  Soy beans grow over the Bachelor's lot, save
for one corner, rife with weeds, which would destroy
any plow that scraped into the well cap waiting there.


For Rosalea

One dream he never wished to shelter
always returned to him: the child would
shinny the kitchen fence to visit the Polish
bachelor who papered his walls with covers
of poultry magazines.  Vivid and glossy hens,
lithographed leghorns, brahmas, dorkings
and plymouth rocks, orpingtons
and wyandottes unblinkingly watched
the child until the dream would come.

A large red smiling hen would chase
the boy for storybook miles until
on an untreacherous seeming hill he
neared his blackboard, flat upon the grass,
attracting him as a magnet thin strands
of steel, holding him, trembling
gently, to receive the beak.  Awake,
his tears would not reveal the dream
that always came again, until

dreams later
in shorn fields of Kaffir corn
dilating fears invaded daylight
when awakening
could not be
when claw thin furrows
etched his cheek
which everyone
could see.


For Robertson Strawn

Old Lady Bob received from the Mouth of God
the revelation that she was to have the gift of flight.
She told everyone, hitching up her drab haying skirt,
and to all who stayed to listen she scheduled her flight
for the third next Sunday from the Polk School steeple.
Even skeptics--who were legion--came to see the show--
to the shame of a niece who begged Old Lady Bob
to stay firm on the ground, not to risk her neck,
but Old Lady Bob climbed and leaped, flailed
the air, and broke both legs.  That's all.  Old Man
Brunskill hollered, "What happened to your faith?"
as they took her inside to wait for the doctor.
"My faith," she answered back, "was strong.  I
just got off on the wrong flop!"  There was
no laughter--just the nagging thought, a pervasive fear,
she might try it again come dog days next year.


For Janis DeChicchio

Just large enough to fill anybody's world
Mrs. Gillenwater snagged her coat on a rosebush
her son Floyd had filled with song the night
before and unknowingly dragged the shrub
to the funeral home, where Mrs. Mallams
still composed, her music drowning
out her neighbors' obsequies.
The rosebush fought back, sprouting
Floyd's love songs, and the choir
joined in, forgetting standard hymns,
until the pallbearers remembered duty,
stilled the sound, closed the lid,
and bore Mrs. Mallams to her grave.
Mr. G. innocently followed,
trailing seven sisters in full bloom
which attracted intermittent honeybees
and pesistent butterflies, which the preacher's
wife roundly condemned as ostentation.


For Vivian Buchan

She healed many, her neighbors swear,
through her hands, through her prayers.

She entranced eventually the disbelieving
who reluctantly had brought to her their grieving.

A man struck by lightning she stripped,
rubbed red, and he rose from her bed

freed for the moment from the taint
of death.  He was handsome in his praise.

She recited his testimony while inching
health into other bodies; clinching fists

relaxed, female pains, goiters, weakness
of the lungs calmed under the firmness

of her hands clean as chalk bottles, clean
as her kitchen floors, her weedless garden,

clean as their talk when they spoke of her,
but none realizes she never smiled.  Never.


For Eva Jessye

So many women did not want to come here,
including my grandmother, who loved France.
It was stark then, the landscape, without trees,
smogged by smelters which promoters called
prosperity.  Although timid, she stubbornly
resisted the language until refusal became habit.

Thus there was always a translator present
when she talked to those of us born in the new country.
You could tell from her eyes that something was lost,
but we impatiently hurried off to play
when her questions or comments didn't make sense,
irrelevant, like going to the goat's house for wool.

On her deathbed she gave me things and crooned
their mysteries in a secret tongue I could not share:
a Tricolored ribbon, a centime piece, a celluloid
doll that drank from a bottle with a long, long
tube which ran to the nipple: strange gifts
for a child who did not know why she gave.


For Rod Dutton

Mrs. Angelo Tocetti, the last important female
in Chicopee, answers my beery good-bye
to someone else, smiles, and fails visibly.
What leisured love that woman whetted
when Sicilian deceit was sweet, we've heard.
But now, at 71, her last commonlaw honeymoon
over, her tired secrets public knowledge, nightly
she learns--and forgets--"Who is to blame?"
suffices no longer.  Oh yesterday.

Tomorrow, maybe, will come in the boy
whose beer can smooth those wrinkles and
that voice, mask her stale musk of garlic.
Already tickling his palm, she mutters as she sips,
thin conflagrations flickering in the snow.


    ". . . There are no shaft mines left in Southeast Kansas, but through the man we met, I felt as if I had experienced what life must have been like for him and his fellow workers and their families.  I understood the strikes for more pay and better working conditions and the march of the Amazon Army (a miners' wives' protest); I wondered why I had never recognized this version of 'Bleeding Kansas.'  People here did not bleed only over the issue of slavery, they bled in the mine fields and in the zinc and lead smelting plants.  The very soil of Kansas bled with the extraction of coal. . . ."--Mil Penner and Carol Schmidt, Kansas Journeys (Inman, Kan.: Sounds of Kansas, 1985), p. 75.

An Interview with Frank Caput
For Gabriel Naccarato

Sheriff Jim Hyman met us
at the community store in Franklin
(we were marching with Howat
on the Simion mine in Cherokee).
He told us to avoid Pittsburg
and Girard, to go by South Radley.
There were fifty or sixty cars of us,
five or six men in each car,
the lead car flying an American flag.
The first scab to come out of the air shaft
was the superintendent, the first
of forty-two men to get whipped that day.
Secretary Harry Burg sang out
"Don't touch the boys!"
They were under age, you see, doing
what their fathers had told them.
So each time a kid come out
Henry would yell, "Open ranks,"
and the boys were allowed through.
But boy oh boy the other ones!


For Clemence Merciez DeGruson

In '21, my mother still herself
at seventeen marched for Alexander
Howat to bust the scabs who worked
the mines in place of the fathers
and husbands of the thousand women
who marched with her carrying
their men's pit buckets filled
with red pepper to throw in the eyes
of the poor scabs who cursed back
in English to their Slovene, German,
French, and Italian over
the State Militia's rifle fire.

It's all dim in her mind now.  She
remembers only that she was hungry
and frightened.  She does not remember
Judge Curran, who said, "It is a fact
that there are bolsheviki, communists,
and anarchists among the alien women
of this community.  It was the lawlessness
of these women which made necessary
the stationing of the State Militia
in our county for two months
to preserve law and order."
She does not remember they
were called an Army of Amazons.


For Barbara LaSalle

The great loneliness he promised her,
but which she knew would never come,
has come. . . . She is its city,
her avenues posted
with new standards of desire,
her limits expanded
beyond hope.

A silent city.

She cannot
adjust to this numbness
in the voice of things: everything
muted, disembodied from source, even
the summer bees not yet divorced
from autumn fields.
tatters in silence.
Everything scuds by unnoticed
as she idly touches each grain of salt
she spilled upon the table cloth.


For Denise Low

Selina--whenever trouble
came--would say in her
worried voice, "Boy, boy,"
quietly, the vowels lengthened
according to the seriousness
of the situation, her hands
quiet in her apron, all movement
in her voice: "Boy, boy."

For hours Selina would gossip
over handleless cups about
old times in the old country,
but even in the summary security
of her kitchen on a Sunday
afternoon, from the porch
could be heard Selina's
"Boy, boy."



(The Girard Press, 4 May 1905)

On the 2d, Laura Heath, of Pittsburg,
aged 27 years, was examined
by Drs. E.G. Cole and L.P. Adamson
and adjudged insane, the supposed cause
being an immoral life.

Last Sunday afternoon quite a number of Girard people
visited the county poor farm.  Among others were
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Decker and children,
Mr. and Mrs. J.H. McCoy, Mrs. Minnie Kosper
and daughter, Mrs. W.F. Higgie, Mrs. J.L. Wheat,
Miss Mamie Buesch, and Mrs. and Mrs. E.A. Wasser.
Mr. and Mrs. Adsit made it pleasant for all.

Joe Rondelli, an Italian miner,
was crushed to death in mine No. 6
of the Mount Carmel Coal Co.
at Frontenac Tuesday afternoon,
a mass of slate and rock falling on him.
He left a wife and children.


For Bonnie Martin

She never knew what vast plains
could exist between
adjoining rooms in one shall house

until she took in boarders.
She came to dread to look
into their room, knowing

they cared not one whit
for that which she had come
to think of as her daily bread.



"The Yellow Dog Fund was kept up by a lot of yellow financiers to buy yellow legislators--and both buyers and sellers had a dirty yellow streak in them."
--Appeal to Reason
John L. Lewis crucified Alex Howat
with the Yellow Dog.  Us that went along
with Alex lost our jobs, our entries, even
our tools.  They took everything.
So we left for Colorado when Alex
went into Illinois and they passed
the Yellow Dog again that forced you
to give up your right to strike.  Either
sign it or get going.  We wouldn't sign.
We wouldn't work in a wildcat mine,
Mike and John Chiolino and me, but
after only a year I got hurt and
the Colorado mines dried up.
McQueen give me my job back--
Howat was out, John L. Lewis was in.
The big money won, you see.
Everything was hunky-dory then.
We got what the little boy shot at.


For Janie Chiolino Caput

We worked in pairs, called ourselves brothers
(recalled Frank Caput, who wished he could get
the Western Coal & Mining Co. books to prove
his story of No. 23 Western at Minden).  There was
me and Mike Chiolino, the Harrigans of Girard,
John and Louis Paffy of Franklin, a couple guys
from Frontenac, and two Austrians--one of them,
John the Bachelor, weighed 300 pounds, lived
at Edison.  Mike and me got out early one morning
and Jim McQueen the Boss said, "Ain't you boys
in the race?"  "What race?" we asked.  "The one
to see who'll do the most work today," he said.

We got to it.  John the Bachelor in the straight
entry picked up a car with his bare hands and put it
back on the track.  "Goddamn!  We got no chance!"
said Mike.  "Let's give it a try," says I.  And believe
it or not, Mike and I won.  Jim McQueen measured
that entry four different times to make sure, but we
had 96 foot of bushing, 36 foot of crosscut, 351
thousand of coal (about 150 tons), and 60 cars of  rock
we wheeled.  I'd go in, Mike would take care of the
empties and bushing.  I'd drill an eight-foot hole,
shoot it, and get eleven foot of coal. . . . 100
and eight feet in all.  No prize.  But we won!


For Dorothea Wallace

We were at a party having a good time.
We did not go to quarrel, for my husband
carried no weapon of any kind, I know.  If so,
he certainly would not have taken me,
        his wife, and child along.

He was playing boccie, having a good time,
when a guy by the name of Pellegrino
called him aside to ask if it was so that
he was saying lies about him.  My old man
        said, "No.  I do not lie."

Pellegrino's brother-in-law, he stood nearby.
He started to insult my husband, called him shit.
My husband told him to be careful or else
he wouldn't like what he'd get.  He turned
        away to play his game.

The guy shot at him, missed, and I cried
out as my husband throwed a ball at him, and then
the bastard fired again and hit my man, but he,
not feeling the wound, throwed another ball that
        really hit him hard.

It struck him in the forehead.  My husband
walk over and hit him until he was too weak
to whip him any more.  While my husband
was beating this man who shot him, Pellegrino
        jumped him from behind.


My husband's friends separated them, and then
my husband, finding out that he was shot, started
to run.  Then I saw two of Pellegrino's cousins,
Enrico and Savirio, fire five shots at him!
        I could not move.

My husband reach the house where they dance.
He fell to the floor, half dead, and Savirio
took a poker, wanted to run it through my husband's chest
to finish him off.  I saw a bottle.  But before I could
        strike that murderer. . . .

A policeman grab me, took the bottle.
He cursed me, said I would go to jail.  Savirio--
that policeman shook his hand, called him friend,
though he knew that coward had shot my man, he
        still holding the gun.

I want everyone to know that this party
that did the shooting were my husband's
best friends up to last September when
the strike started--my husband for Howat,
        the others for the other side.

My husband did not want trouble.  The first
time he saw these men again was last Sunday,
when they killed him.  My husband's last words
was you never know why your friends turn
        out the way they do.


For Gale Shields

He was not an educated man
in the sense that he knew the law
or was certified to cure the ills
he saw, and one of his shortcomings
was that if he believed a thing right
he could see it no other way.

The coal companies never got too big
for Alexander Howat to tackle.
The bigger they were, the harder
he fought, his defiance bringing
prosecutions which sent him to jail.
He became a power of the past.

At his sentencing, miners stood up to join
the cry: "Jail one year--no work one year."
Though stripped of political power, he
remained armored in their love.  Observers
saw "something in his fighting spirit
that even jail could not touch."


For Roger O'Connor

Somebody's day lilies host the grounds
around this family's house.  Abandoned, it stoutly stands,
its wardrobes filled with clothes, dishes in the pie safe,
the kitchen's calendar still reading June 1933.
Who now can say how its situation came to be
this uncared-for gray and penitential black?

Perhaps there was danger within its well-built walls,
an engulfing emotion or unpublishable sin without rein,
possibly a simple death or a rainbow of wanderlust . . .
or a case of contagious disinterest.  There was maybe just
no longer need or a greater necessity.  Something
preceded this peaceful decay, moved a family suddenly.

In this slant of sun, we think it leans as a repudiated
lover should: tenacious to the way things used to be,
devoutly disbelieving change of taste, resigned to obey
with grace the inevitable chemistry of the seasons.
It is a survivor by chance, for its joists are tempting
and its walls surely challenge the southern winds.

For all these crowded hours of day lilies,
it must somehow have remained invisible,
revealing only protective reflections,
mirroring home to those who came to divest it
of its worth--or are those faces smiling
from the windows really ours.


For Ted Watts

Saturday night friends set out to give Kid Jackson
a good send-off when he returned from K.C.
dead of T.B.  All his gambling buddies were on hand,
the services almost over, when into the grave
jumps this hare.  The ladies kinda gasped, but
that was nothing--compared to a minute later
when Little Bill and Joe Fat jumped in after.
It's supposed to be a lucky piece, you see,
the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit, and
both them guys was gonna have it.  The rabbit
didn't have no chance: lost his foot, over which
Bill and Joe started to rassle when somebody
hollered to auction it off--give the proceeds
to Kid Jackson's folks to help with the funeral.
Course, most folks knew Kid Jackson didn't have
no ma or daddy anymore, but everybody wanted
that lucky piece, so off it went to a Kansas City
dealer for fifty bucks, which Little Bill and Joe Fat
split, proving beyond a doubt that the left hind foot
of a graveyard rabbit certnelly brings good luck.


For Frances McKenna

As if forever
trees, sumac, blackberries
grow on these pits
where coal was stripped.
Deep waters now, a boy dived in,
came out with hundreds of clinging
cottonmouths.  Such tales abound.
Despite deep miners' talk,
we know that multitudes of maidenheads
have shaped these shores
where fires have burned all night.
W.H. Auden was impressed.
Rebecca Patterson used to take
her Texas guests to see
these unnatural phenomena.
But, young bloods of Goshen,
we also have front yards in Kansas
yet and Methodist saints.
As for highly sophisticated
Swedes, you will meet one
almost anywhere.  We have plenty.


For John Garralda

After the Great War, my wife was proud
when I returned to Europe on a Socialist labor
mission, reporting directly to President
Woodrow Wilson.  Five times I went.
She thrilled to hear the arguments
I posed to Ramsay McDonald, Clemenceau,
Kerensky, Trotsky, Stalin, Lloyd George.
She thought she had married an important man, so
it sort of made up for the times my men
called me the Bull of the Woods--which she
thought made me sound too free, especially
since she had no children of our own.
She blushed to hear it, but she stood by me
throughout the trials and pardons, the screed
of strikes and imprisonments; she went with me
when I was ousted from District 14.

In Illinois, for a while she was lifted
when I became president of the Reorganized
Mine Workers' Union, but all but collapsed
when John L. Lewis broke us and we moved.
In '31 she put on her best hat
when I became contract investigator
under U.S. Secretary of Labor Bill Doak,
But John L. got to me again, so back to Kansas.
She weathered my post as inspector at the port
of entry between Pittsburg and Joplin, but
being a political appointment, that went caput.
I started drinking--heavily: I know it hurt
Agnes with her envolvement with the W.C.T.U.,
but what else was I to do?  Each morning
her eyes are dry as she tells me good-bye
and I leave to sweep the streets of Pittsburg.



        "Childhood is simple and free.  The spirit can grow boundlessly, but in older years it is warped and scarred trying to fit into rules and measures.
        "A man looks back to escape the future.  The goodness of childhood is gone, but he knows that is the answer to his wanting--to be simple and free again, to be as a child.
        "So the place of his childhood becomes a symbol.  He sets his feet on the rich green ground of memory and his heart is broken when he finds decay.
        "But it is the decay of his own spirit he unknowingly grieves, and that is the one thing that is impervious to time.  Wood and trees and fences decay.
        "But a man's spirit can outlast a stone doorstep."--Zula Bennington Greene, Skimming the Cream (Topeka: Baranski Publishing Company, 1983), p. 56.


For Bill Duffy

Someone must have loved the look of
trumpet vine and planted it
beside the chimney wall in all
innocence--having seen it blare
from some catalog page--not knowing
that its scarlet horn in a mere
three seasons would secure itself
along the chimney and grow a force
of roots beneath the house, drive
cracking tendrils through the walls,
spin delicate coils to lift the roof
above its waxy leaves.  "Indestructible!"
the catalog should have read.
Withstanding first lye water, then
hatchet, it would thicken annually.

Pity the unsuspecting bride who planted it,
who at first blinded by its size and strength
soon discovered that its obscene blossoms drew
more swarms of ants than flights of hummingbirds.


For Ray Wheeler

The cottage with bay and thatch is gone.
A new brick house with straight lines sits
where Old Man Brunskill's cottage used
to stand, from which would pounce a furious
little dog on men and women of facts
and figures who, while ignoring the laughter
from his honeysuckle hedge, wondered
at seashells lining his gravelled path,
not knowing that those horns of Triton
satisfied an inland yearning for the sea.


For Elizabeth Layton

In Lucas a Civil War
veteran rebuilt the Garden
of Eden, guarded by an
Adam sixteen feet tall
and a fourteen-foot tall Eve.  He
wears a Masonic apron.
Under his foot is the head
of a serpent who undulates
twelve feet tall for thirty feet;
Eve accepts an apple from
a serpent who undulates
on the other side for thirty feet:
these form the grape arbor,
every inch concrete.  On the
wall Abel's wife mourns her
husband under an eye ball
whose pupil is an electric bulb;
Cain goes out from the Presence
of the Lord, driven by an
Angel, who carries
an American flag.
A soldier shoots an Indian,
which aims an arrow at a dog
who chases a cat who chases
a bird that is about to pounce
on a worm gnawing a leaf.
A girl chases the soldier.
In the background we see Christ
crucified by a doctor, a lawyer,
and a priest.  Underneath
is a masoleum where the

Union veteran lies
in his open concrete coffin,
at his feet a plugged concrete
jug, filled with water
when he died in 1932--to grab
on Resurrection Day, just
in case he had to go the other way.
All this for one dollar.
At eighty-odd the veteran
had married a twenty-three-year-old girl.
Two children were born
of this union.   They played
under the Eye of God.  The Civil
War veteran's handy man
changed the bulb whenever necessary.


For Mark, Wylie, and Tom

Edging through the snow
head to wind
my brother's three small sons
dog after him.
The pond they seek still beds
an eight-pound bullhead
my father is said
to have stocked there
the year before his death.

On such a day as this
(although I sense it cannot be)
dreams should become reality.
They chop through ice
this morning not for thirsting cows
but for a glimpse of cat
mud-deep in his season's sleep,
their believing breaths
breaking shorter and shorter
in the icy air.


For Lemuel Norrell

It was illogical
that she should enter her own house
to find him, a stranger, sitting in the dark.
But there had been such a sunset
he wandered in to use a window,
turned off the lamp to watch the sky,
and when it died he watched it still,
not hearing her steps, not realizing
her incomprehension of his sitting in the dark,
a smiling stranger, whose privacy
had been invaded.


For James Tate

A visit, once made, is intractable,
a modification of memories.
After twenty years I revisit a farm:
only a chimney belies
the house that homed
perfection once.  Rocks now
the stones that then weighed tons,
ruins dwarfed
by magnificence of memory.

Even the elm which my father said
housed bears is gone.
Nothing remains
complete tonight
except years of burying
I am afraid to forget.


For Norman E. Tanis

Finally came time to fulfill the longing
I had to write, but my words came back
with discouraging, calm regularity.
Then came his challenge on the edge
of a rejection slip: a challenge to sincerity,
to strength, to write something that would say
the things I had to say.  Each better thing I wrote
(the meager life I lived, the frugal things I did)
brought kind and better comment.  My life
glowed: I had aim and purpose.  His name
was in my heart--constantly.  But when I saw it
in a magazine one day in casual mention
showing that the world knew him as well as I,
my eyes were almost blinded.  I found him
in Who's Who.  I found a list of books
he had written, and then one day I saw
cited: "Independent, Vol. 155, p. 282,"
and there his portrait, "Voltaire from Kansas."
I suddenly feared to wonder why he cared.


For Kenneth Melaragno

Saturday night streets crowded,
out-of-town drummers lauded
the virtue of Pittsburg's twenty-three
saloons, booze flowing all over
Broadway from First to Eighth Street,
smoke everywhere.

Minister Harold Bell Wright
studied the exits from the bars
as he walked among the throngs
teetering along the plank sidewalks:
The men had looked upon wine so long
that their long faces had turned red.

He saw Mrs. Jennings hang
her mockingbird outside
her store-front window; he saw
Jim Halliday, drunk, thrust his hand
inside that cage and take
the mocker as if it were his own.

With screeching prisoner in pocket,
JIm Halliday entered a drug store
to have another "prescription" filled.
Wright saw Jim Halliday arrested
and, failing bond, hauled off
to the smelting town's city cooler.

That night, Wright learned, Lyman Jones
and Seaver Jennings took Halliday
home to Carbon on his promise
to produce Mrs. Jenning's bird,
they not noticing a tiny breast
feather at the corner of his lips.

While they talked to Mrs. Halliday,
Jim flew the coop, and Harold Bell Wright
preached a sermon next day
on mockingbirds and saloons, both temptations
on the main street to Heaven, both
befuddlers of our all too mortal senses.


For C.W. Betz

Brave, why he could go
into any bandit's hole:
the Public No. 1 Hero.
The Star played him up
for all his bravery.

Then his death: shot up
by one of his mistresses.
She was about to become a mother
and wanted him to marry her.
He refused, so she shot him.

She called the police.
They came, called his wife--
the first she knew he was married.
All were so let down--having such
great admiration for Speedie Stevens.

A great personality he had
to be able to let them all down.
The Star was so let down
it told his story in a paragraph
of three lines on the obit page.


For Elliott Shore

Her age not known, she was always
young to the immigrant women--
always ready to explode--
a tornado sweeping through the coal camps
with a dangerous and unforgivable
truth, her appeal to reason memorized
by those who had never learned to run
their eyes over the pages of her voice.

But once her voice whirled among them,
breaking open cellars of courage
drawn upon till then only to bear
hunger and servitude, the doors
of every miner's house in the district
flew open before dawn: their women
gathered, humbly armed, to storm
the mines with a convincing lightning.


For Sharon E. Neet

The past is never easy.
No matter how painstaking,
how honest, we can never be
sure of it. . . . It slips.

We know with certainty
that Granny Wild Holler,
whose name would sail
across the grasslands
in the Clark County Clipper
is dead.  Yet, if we allow it,
we still sense her concern
as we read "Little Phoebe Holler
was quite ill this week"
or "Charles Holler and
his hands are down."

Her fried chicken won a place
on the editorial page; everywhere
her sewing circle was well known
for its missionary quilts.
"Mother 1848-1915" is all her
tombstone tells, she really being
buried in microfilm at the Kansas
Cultural Arts Center in Dodge City.


Portrait of Gene DeGruson by Ted Watts

        Gene DeGruson was born 10 October 1932 in Girard, Kansas, to Henry DeGruson, a French coal miner, and his wife, Clemence Merciez.  He was reared in Camp 50 and on a farm near Weir.  A graduate of Crawford County Community High School, Arma, he holds two degrees from Pittsburg State University, where he is currently [1986] an associate professor and special collections librarian.  He has taught speech and drama at Highland Park High School, Topeka, and communications at the University of Iowa.  He returned to Pittsburg State in 1960 to teach American literature, introduction to poetry, and research methods.  During the summers he directed plays in the Tent-by-the-Lake Theatre, translating and directing Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid during the 1961 season.
        Previous publications include a bibliography, Kansas Authors of Best Sellers, as well as contributions to First Printings of American Authors and Bibliography of American Literature.  In 1975 he adapted Harold Bell Wright's first novel, The Printer of Udell's, into a melodrama, which he directed for the Pittsburg Centennial.  He is currently at work on a "Guide to Special Collections in Kansas" with colleagues from Wichita State and Kansas State Universities.

Back Cover of Goat's House