Sidi J. Mahtrow
A Word About Vermillion - Poem by Sidi J. Mahtrow
A Word about Vermillion*
The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader
Often presents our fair city
With a large and elaborate editorial bouquet,
Albeit one not altogether destitute of briars.
While not approving of Vermillion, in toto,
It is surprised that aught of good
Can come out of a 'place named Vermillion, '
Views with interest 'the beginning of culture'
In this distant community,
And is not a little curious to know
Whether the Vermin
Understand the classical and historical allusions
Occasionally employed in their paper
To point a moral or adorn a tale.
'Vermillion' the Leader reports
With a burst of confidence,
'Is in The Technology Belt'.
Whether by this remark it meant
To enable its readers to locate the great
And only home of the University of South Dakota,
Or to give them an idea
Of the generous proportions of South Dakota,
I know not; but certain
It is that 'Vermillion is in the State of South Dakota, '
And not built around it,
Howsoever incredible this statement
May appear to residents of Sioux Falls.
There has been little said
About Vermillion in the hitherto,
Taking it for granted that her name
And fame had long ago reached
The uttermost ends of the earth -
Had penetrated even the fastnesses of Sioux Falls,
That faithful rendition of the French,
Sioux meaning snake,
The home of an infamous mayor,
School board members and county sheriff,
Familiar to all readers as a winter ski resort;
But alas! even the Great Sioux River
Cascading through the falls cannot
Drown out the hubris of an educated press.
'One would not expect much
From a place named Vermillion, '
After all the post-office department
Had to tell the citizens to spell the name
Of the glorious city with two 'ls'
Rather than one usually accustomed.
Citizens of the United States
And other parts unknown
Continue to send their offspring
To the University in great numbers,
Hopefully with currency.
Despite the efforts of
The Board of Regents to stifle education.
On the matter of money,
You may apologize therefor
By saying you know not if
Vermillion has a bank or
Is a money-order post-office!
But let us not become discouraged.
Yes we have banks,
Although the Livestock Bank
Has renounced its ties to the earth
And joined hands with outsiders,
They and their brethren continue
To hold the earnings of patrons
For only modest fees,
Usually less than the sum
Of the patron's holdings.
There be people on earth
Who know not that Christ is dead,
Or that our Heroic Governor
Hath a habitation and a name,
So leaden-footed is the strumpet Fame.
While in this country, (Yankton) ,
Tom Brokaw has a street named for him
So that avenging listeners can drive
Over a 'liberal commentator'
At their pleasure.
So wags the weary world.
It is painful to reflect
That there be people in Sioux Falls,
Who wot not admit that the school board
And superintendent once had the whole community
'Leaning over the bar in disbelief
That taxes should not immediately
Be raised to fulfill the every wish
Of the Teachers Union' -
Whether of Themis or Bacchus I disremember -
Listening spellbound to the flood of
Websterian eloquence by which
Our claim to Clay County school system
Was washed away;
Who have forgotten,
If they; ever knew,
That Carrie Nation
Had her start in Women's Temperance
Here in our very own city.
And, Rand McNally
Omitting the entire state from its Atlas
Thus not even permitting the mistake
Of the seat of the University
For an incidental fly-speck on the map
Of free America.
But so it is.
The Plain Talk with its new editor
Trings forth from week to week,
Heavy-laden with sporting pages,
Reports of new enterprises,
And mantra-maker Frenchification
And other forms of higher culture;
The Rev. Ms. of Episcopal church fame
Chases a behoofed and behorned devil
Through endless mire, bogs and briars,
While the Professors hang to her coattails
And tearfully plead with their phrenetic sister
That the elusive monster is but a pipe dream;
Youthful atheist not yet well dry behind the ears,
Whittle paynim spears from ball point pens,
Ride full tilt at any
So unwise to disagree with them,
And triumphantly bear those scalps
Away as ornaments for their mountain bikes,
Volvos and minivans;
Dames of high degree roll
Hither-and-yon on roller blades;
The Chamber of Commerce pounders
Until there is an audible whirr of wheels
In its own head;
Whereas the City Manager vibrates
Between the 'new' golf course,
Recycling center and bike paths -
A Ciceronian oration in one hand
And a cracked thunder-mug in the other -
And insist on regulating us from 'A to Z',
While the University grinds out lawyers
To labor among the heathen horde of ne'er-do-wells,
Delinquents of all ages and welfare recipients.
But be not misled,
Vermillion is a progressive city!
No other city can lay claim
To having more abandoned bridges
Either on a per capita basis or
As a percent of bridges built
Since the beginning of time.
Could you believe that crossing
The scenic Vermillion river are (or were)
Eight bridges and this doesn't count the railroad!
Oh, and the future which is now.
The new bridge linking Nebraska's 'Good Live'
With South Dakota is now more than just a gleam
In a proud congressman's eye.
Yes by God, we will have this bridge
Which will bring untold wealth
To our fair city.
Imagine how the Corn Huskers
Of Nebraska will line our pockets with gold
As they (all 500 or so who live within 20 miles of the bridge)
Will rush to Vermillion for haircuts, video rentals,
Or a quick massage at the hands
Of our six chiropractors) .
And still people ask if Vermillion
Has banks and/or a money-order post-office!
If you doubt it, take out an accident policy
From our many insurance agents,
And ask the Mayor.
(As an aside, the Mayor for reasons known only to hisoner,
Supports the move of academia from Vermillion
To that great metro to the north, Sioux Falls.
He so expressed his sentiments in a meating (sic)
Before the South Dakota Legislature -
Can you believe it, maybe he has sold short
in the Vermin real estate market?)
For the information of the effete Sioux Falls residents,
We do admit that the population of Vermillion
Is a trifle less than that of Yankton,
The city has greater room in which to grow;
And as her people are chiefly of the unmarrying kind,
The natural increase must ere long place her
At the head of the procession.
Vermillion, we would have you know,
Is the religious storm-center of the Universe,
And one of the few places that gay rights
Are so prominently championed -
A fact for the consideration
Of students of cause and effect.
Well supplied with pure (but foul tasting water) ,
A saloon in every block,
A church around every corner and a
Fire or business failure every day,
Vermillion is indeed a land
Flowing with milk and honey - a place
'Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile'.
There is such wealth in Vermillion
That one has only to throw open the doors
Of a new enterprise to reap your fair share
Of the rewards of this land of milk and honey.
Be not disturbed that ghost of enterprises past,
Hover amidst the cobwebs
Of abandoned buildings and
Prey on the unsuspecting.
Those are not business failures,
No they are only errors in judgement.
A failed bike shop here, a restaurant there,
Clothing stores, auto parts and muffler shops,
Fast food emporiums, dance studios,
Business offices, print shops, &c; .
Why even the Chamber of Commerce
Has abandoned downtown!
And those that remain quarrel
Over the use of dumpsters?
Did not I tell you of the plentitude
That awaits you.
Her streets are so smooth
That a mountain goat can traverse them
With comparative ease,
And so clean that it is seldom that a
Mule (or car) gets lost in the mud.
The tax rate is so low
That if your property
Be well located
You can usually persuade the collector
To accept it as partial payment.
Being deeply religious,
Vermillion takes her business motto from the Bible:
'He that provideth not for his own household
Is worse than an infidel'
, i.e., do unto others.'
While Vermillion culture has not yet
Reached the 'eyther and nyther' stage,
It has more than 'made a beginning.'
The pool room has been succeeded by the spa,
The neck-tie sociable by progressive jazz
And the song of the six-shooter by the libel suit.
(Our very own Capn. Kidder
For which a prominent street is named
Would vouch for this if only he were alive
And not done in by a bunch of angry Mexicans.)
That we are making rapid progress
Is evidenced that the fact that a tree
On which no one has been hanged,
Is now regarded in awe
By the younger natives.
Of course Vermillion, like other places,
Has its drawbacks; but,
There is no better.
While it is true,
That you cannot secure a bath,
Shave or don a clean shirt here on Sunday,
The saloons and churches are open,
And the city owned liquor store
Maintains a quiet monopoly
On the acquiring of demon rum.
Vermin, as we are wont to call
The good citizens of Vermillion
Are not quite all in the cemetery.
It boast two or three society women
Who do not chew gum, straddle a bike
Nor drink wine coolers.
There be several men here
Who could safely be left alone
With a blind orphan girl,
Or a corpse whose eyes
Are covered with coppers.
Though the Argus Leader
Be well staffed from the Brooking's school
Of journalism and owned
And ruled by USA Today
And thus unaccustomed to independent thought,
They will be surprised to find among
Vermillion's professional men
Those capable of giving exercise
Enough in the intellectual arena.
Should its editors become aweary
Of going over into Minnesota to turn around,
Or wearing icicles in their whiskers
Six months in the year and
Inhaling city soot mixed with
Clammy slaughter house fragrance
In lieu of atmosphere,
Let them come to Clay County
Where there is room for expansion,
And grind out their midwinter 'coppee'
- As the Vermin do -
By an open window
(Complements of an absentee landlord)
Through which streams
A golden shower brighter than
Desiring Zeus poured into Dante's prison
- The day- gods' benediction,
Heavy with the fragrance of
Lilac and pulsing with the hoot-owls cry.
Why 'grunt and sweat under a weary life, '
And watch hungry and hollow-eyed
For the ghost to walk,
When a multitude of real estate agents
Stand ready to prove to you
That the unearned increment
Of a suburban lot, only seven-tenths mile
From the center of the city
(And glory of all glories,
Overlooking the Missouri river
As well as a first class cemetery) ,
Would retrieve the fallen fortunes
of Wall Street and transform
The dogs of Lazarus into menials!
Of course Vermillion is the place
(Or nearby) where Gateway computers
Were spawned in an abandoned barn,
Where in the nearby town of Elk Point,
Tis rumored that a humongous oil refinery is to be built
Ignoring the fact that South Dakota has no oil
Or other natural resources for that matter.
Never let that dampen enthusiasm, for with planning
And a modicum of good luck,
A Sewage Treatment Plant may be named after you.
How sad that the Water Treatment Plant already
Bears another's claim to fame and his good name.
Come snow-birdie, come,
And live with me, in a city fairer
Than hasheesh vision,
And where you find a new enterprise
Every hour into which you have but to
Drop you patrimony
To pocket large profits.
(Words added in proof
Tf there is doubt of the veracity of my statements:
Vermillion and the environ is one climate zone
Removed from the surrounding area
Thanks to the 'greenhouse effect'
Of the Missouri river,
As noted by none other than that authority on climate,
The United States Department of Agriculture, no less.)
All trains stop at Vermillion.
When they rumble below the bluff,
The whole village shakes in appreciation.
You will recognize the station
By a structure which resembles
A Kansas packing plant
That has been held by the vandal Time
While criminally assaulted by a cyclone.
You will see mid-aged simpering youth
Wearing large Clinton smiles
(Grinning like a mule eating briars,
Or a possum eating –,
For that matter)
Standing in the foreground
Suggestive of Life
Sporting at the gates of Death
As they jog up
University, Dakota and Bloomingdale streets.
They are Uppies and politically correct,
I might add.
Quick to tell you that you are
In Vermillion, home of THE university,
The envy of Olympian Gods.
If you doubt it ask the joggers
That hover on the leeward side
Of the majestic pond
(Otherwise known as the settling basin,
Nested along the bank
Of the scenic Vermillion River,
Which was misnamed by Lewis and Clark
As the White river on their first visit
To our beautius village,
Which only proves that man
Is not held responsible for trifling mistakes) ,
If you there see a long array of pickup trucks
in the last stages of senescence,
At once you will know that you
Have arrived in Vermillion!
As all roads lead to Vermillion,
You may choose from our ample accommodations.
Perhaps you will choose the Vermillion high-rise.
This is not a building of medieval times
It is under the capable management of
A 'Republican', whose sad sweet smile
Reconciles heady youths
To the thought that we all must die.
You will probably expect to see inscribed
Over the portals,
'Abandon hope all ye who enter here,
We have non-smoking rooms, '
But the legend of despair
Has been erased by the gnawing tooth
Of Time and only 'non-smoking rooms' remains.
Sight of the 'dome',
A ride over the corduroy roads,
And the Dantean face of your host
Will probably breed a frantic desire
To take the next train to the Badlands,
Or flee to a second-hand cemetery,
Where more cheerful surroundings
Will purge you of maladie du pays;
But the feeling will gradually
Wear away as the beauties
Of city unfold themselves,
The glorious climate
Begins to get next to you,
Our passionate no-see-ums
Drink their fill,
You find that both the religious
And liquor are orthodox,
And the lordly strut of the University
Professors brings to mind
Aesop's fable of the frog.
Some day the State will add buildings
To harmonize with the 'dome'
Which looks not unlike
a mid-size Texas toadstool.
And, the town will have student lodging
Not mistaken for out-houses.
Some day we'll have streets
That wouldn't wreck
The Deacon's One Hoss Shay in a week.
Some day we'll bury
The hypocritical mossbacks
Who have long sniveled
About Town Pride while cutting
The throat of the town
With a cold-blooded villainy
That makes every man possessing a dollar
Afraid to pass through the place
With the car windows open.
- With apologies to W.C. Brann and his survivors. This was paraphrased from 'A Word About Waco'. Written in the late 1890s and published by his widow in 1919.
As a footnote to history, Brann's humor was little understood in Waco, Texas (deep in the bible belt of the South) where he published the Iconoclast. His caustic views on a variety of social, political, religious and economic issues stuck in the craw of the locals but he had a world-wide readership of some 90,000 subscribers. On April 1,1898 he was shot in a street duel. (Hardly a duel, as Brann was shot in the back and yet was able to fire in return.) Captain Tom E. Davis of Sloan's Texas Rangers and Brann both died the following day of their wounds.
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