Reading: Vacation by William Stafford

William Stafford (1914-1993) was a very prolific American writer who was born in Kansas and died in Oregon. From his many works I selected, with the help of Szeslaw Milosz, a short observation about traveling:

Vacation
One scene as I bow to pour her coffee:–

____Three Indians in the scouring drouth
____huddle at the grave scooped in the gravel,
____lean to the wind as our train goes by.
____Someone is gone.
____There is dust on everything in Nevada.

I pour the cream.

This was how it feels to travel on the Western frontier, I imagine. Your fiancée sitting opposite to you, hot coffee provided by rail catering (that was incomparably better in those days than it is currently), and gazing from the window at the barbarians, or at ‘the others’ to use that fancy word.

The others are native Americans, who Stafford in his day could call Indians without being put on trial by social justice warriors, and they were burying someone in the droug(h)t. With a few words, he paints the scene and notes that there is ‘dust on everything’, or, everything is already buried, dead or not. The landscape of Nevada is one big fallen tombstone, covered with dust and illegible.

While he was watching the funeral, he must have poured her the coffee, because when he looks inside again he is ready to pour the cream. Pouring hot coffee requires some coordination; doing it while looking at a distant native funeral (what an expression) must require a special ability.

Reading this, I think of the expeditions of Lewis and Clark (an interesting coincidence is that William Stafford taught at Lewis and Clark college).

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