Miss Valley City, North Dakota
Poem by Charles P. Ries
It was an odd place to be a beauty queen,
butt square in the middle of America.
Where drinking, eating red meat,
and killing time outside Woolworth’s
was considered gainful employment.
A Great Plains beauty with a lost look
from a past life that told you she
wasn’t comfortable wearing this town’s
tiara. Wondering why any thinking God
would re-enter her here. In this place,
to eat buffalo burgers and to be confused
with someone else. Making amends for
past life sins.
Maybe this is why she tried to drink her
brains out. Pounding away her sense of
strangeness to make her soul fit here, but
drunk or not, they loved her and voted
her their Queen of Valley Days in 1972.
They wrapped their beauty queen’s
head in a garland of Prairie Chicken
grass, gave her a scepter of wheat
husks, circled her ivory porcelain
neck with a string of Swedish meatballs,
and carried her down Main Street in a
white Chevy convertible chariot.
Years later, after she dried out, moved
away, began to live in real time and
remember her days, she made friends
with life and walked the middle road
between drunks and born-again Christians.
She discovered she could zap pain
away with a flick of her forefinger.
She liked doing this better than
drinking and began to live dangerously.
In time, she yearned to return to
that white convertible and smell
it all over again. To see it with
young, sober eyes at middle age.
The people outside Woolworth’s
were glad to see her. Pleased to
have her flick her finger their way.
She would always be Miss Valley
City. And she came to know that
family is family, and the glue that
binds us together is greater than
the things that make us change.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews, and poetry reviews have appeared in over 200 print and electronic publications. He has received five Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He is the author of The Fathers We Find, a memoir, as well as six books of poetry. In 2013, Alternating Current Press published his full collection of poetry, Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love. His work is archived at Marquette University and can be found here.
Second Place Winner of the 2014 Luminaire Award for Best Poetry