Trip to Wyuka

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Trip to Wyuka
for Paul Brandhorst, 1966–1998

His first night at support group
he wore a western hat low over his eyes,
a toothpick in the side of his mouth,
thumbs hooked in Levi pockets,
pretended to be a cowboy.

He said nothing save his name
but afterwards followed me out
to ask a question, the kind you just know
is an excuse for conversation.
I had seen enough before this night
to know how it would go.

His family had scattered like quail
at the mention of AIDS, were still in hiding.
He was driven to bitter tears by unfairness,
injustice, and loneliness.
Under the brim of the Stetson
he was desperate to connect.

Near the end he asked to see his mother’s grave
in Nebraska. We walked the streets of Lincoln,
while he pointed out landmarks, his mother’s
grave in Wyuka Cemetery, the pauper’s plot
of infamous Charlie Starkweather.

Our second time in Lincoln, I carried him
in an urn, left him in that place where
mothers, sons and murderers lie down together,
all injustice and bitterness swallowed up in the dirt.

—Dorothy Alexander


 

Dorothy Alexander is a poet, storyteller and retired lawyer. She began writing poetry after the loss of her son, Kim Alexander, to HIV/AIDS in 1989. She is the co-founder of a small independent poetry press promoting the work of Oklahoma poets. The Oklahoma Center for the Book presented Dorothy with the 2013 Carlile Distinguished Service Award for her services to the literary community.

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Brent Calderwood, A&U’s literary editor, on our Summer Reading feature, “A Growing Legacy”: A&U’s Summer Reading Issue has become an annual tradition, an opportunity for us to showcase new work by both established authors and emerging talents. This year, we’re thrilled to share work by the winners of A&U’s newly established Christopher Hewitt Award. (Poet Christopher Hewitt, now deceased, was a founding board member of A&U and served as its literary editor for many years.) Given each year to the best unpublished poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and drama that addresses HIV/AIDS, it’s our chance to recognize and encourage quality work that not only builds upon the legacy of thirty years of literature about our community, but also helps to enrich and expand our ideas of what “literature” and “community” mean when we speak about AIDS in the new millennium.

This month, we introduce you to the First Place winners in each genre. Terry M. Dugan’s nonfiction piece “Like Taking Blood from a Baby,” an excerpt from her memoir in progress, uses startling details to capture the heady urgency of the early days of AIDS research. In “Greyhound, 1984,” fiction winner Lisa Sandlin grabs and holds onto the reader with terse, rhythmic language, unique imagery, and a story that’s both unsentimental and poignant. Evan Guilford-Blake, meanwhile, gracefully blends monologue, dialogue, and dance in “Cowboy Nocturne,” his short play about love, loss, and remembrance. And Oklahoma poet Dorothy Alexander’s “Trip to Wyuka” is remarkable for its specificity of character and place, and a last line that cuts right to the bone.