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A Midwestern Vacation

(Sep 27th, 2017 at 01:13:24 AM)
It took days on the road to really appreciate the corn stalks.
Hundreds, standing straight, in rows on both sides of us
filling their allotted space with an ignorant perfection
unaware of the precision with which they were placed.

Firmly established in the wet concrete-colored dirt
they were just beginning to brown at the top
but mostly they were verdant, hiding wrapped cobs
in the criss-cross pattern of leaves that feed them.

We had seen fields of corn before, of course.
They were a feature of nearly ever inter-city drive
back home in Ohio, but it wasn’t until Iowa
that the fields themselves were an attraction.

Maybe it was just the certainty that these ones were new
but those fields seemed more contiguous than I remembered.
They felt less like crops, planted unceremoniously in square plots,
and more like grass, tightly connected in a way I couldn’t see.

The brown tips swayed slightly in the evening winds
and when the terrain dipped toward us, they blended together
so we could finally see the proverbial amber waves of grain.
A secret midwestern shore, lit to the horizon by the setting sun.

It struck me that for some this was Midwest proper.
That corn stalks and livestock, and maybe soybeans,
were the elements of daily life.  Tending to this ocean
is, ostensibly, the hustle and bustle of rural America.

So the small highway-exit towns separating these fields
where we may have stopped for gas, or to pee,
though foreign to me, and so unlike the city,
are a part of my identity in some irrevocable way.

I am forever bound to the prejudices of farmers and factory workers.
I am tied in with these more traditional men and women
who, from a modern eye, seem to want the wrong things,
for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way, in the wrong time.

I will forever be provided with raised eyebrows
from those cautious enough to fear that I,
with my Midwestern sensibilities, might disapprove
of their lifestyle, their culture, or their beliefs.

I want to explain that the city is different! That close-quarters life
produces more tolerant and more interested people.
That, though clearly a young white American male,
I am also the child of a hippie and a Puerto Rican.

But that's not sufficient. City folk may not be separated
by corn fields, forests, and dirt roads, but we still keep our distance
with signs plugged into our lawns and speakers plugged into our ears.
And my heritage doesn't make me any less Midwestern.

The fact that my wife and I can travel calmly through each state
with a level of caution equal to “avoid politics and religion”
is yet another privilege that we can't help but regret having.
It is yet another freedom that feels tainted by its exclusivity.

The fact that we do not fear being silently labeled dangerous
or being loudly told that we and our kind do not belong
or confronted by aggressive self-provers with weapons
is a testament to our in-group status. To our freedom.

So we wonder, when should we reject these freedoms?
When should we refuse what has been given to us for free
to help earn it for those that aren't provided the same opportunities?
When and how can we make a statement with sufficient impact?

Conversely, is it our responsibility to make such a statement?
Should we join the ranks of white people using their power
for the salvation of minority groups? Does that even work in real life?
Do they want or need us to do more than support their own efforts?

I wish I knew what was right. Whether living my life
with an eye on the progress others make is enough
or if I'm lazy and selfish for not being more involved.
When does recognizing struggle and standing aside become neglect?

Maybe the memories of our road trip will help us find the truth. Or at least
to the degree that we are humans with circumstances we didn't choose
maybe it helps us ask the right questions of ourselves.  If it does,
maybe this time around it was privilege well exercised.