As my journey closes I realize that space is all I’ve ever wanted and that I don’t want to feel penned in by place. I don’t need those markers to be comfortable. The simple fact is that I want everything and I want nothing. I want the fleeting and ephemeral and I want it to be a constant. Not as an unchanging presence but as a constantly changing presence, eternal in its ambiguity and beautiful in its uncertainty. I don’t want to stay the same any more than I want to have the same address two months from now. I have tried being comfortable and found it uncomfortable. Like Fiona Apple said in a song, “I’m good at being uncomfortable so I can’t stop changing all the time.” Change is the drug I crave and I want to travel lightly but always be prepared so I keep a toothbrush and passport on my person at all times because you never know where you might end up when you go out for a loaf of bread. The world has spoken to me and I answer with my eyes and my heart and now I know exactly where I want to be. Everywhere and nowhere.
At the start of this experiment
I worry that we will grow tired of each other
in such close quarters.
All shared spaces with multiple uses,
a clever design but with no eye to privacy.
As one week turns into three and then
a month and more and
there is no bickering or petty arguments
about who left the cap off the toothpaste
or on which side of the sink the soap belongs
I realize how ridiculous my fears are
because how can I get sick of my other half?
Best friends since childhood, attached at the hip,
even through long absences, twins born
years apart to different mothers
–there must be some mistake.
But there was no mistake and people come into our lives
when we need them most.
In him I have my brother, my twin,
and we are at home in the world.
I watch the clock and am waiting anxiously.
My bag was packed days too early and still
I shuffle and reshuffle my belongings,
only one suitcase but it seems like far too much stuff.
I want to be free and unencumbered and
flee in the night with only what I can carry and
this town has always been too small for me.
I am ready to leave as soon as I arrive
and I want to see the world.
When he arrives I am out the door and
not knowing where we’re going is part of the fun.
The big diesel truck eats the miles like candy
and I don’t look back,
the only things that matter are what I see ahead of me.
I roll my window down all the way and the wind
hits my face and I smile because I feel free,
maybe for the first time ever.
I lean back in my seat and let the wind carry me along.
–and maybe some of us are–
“watch your wallets and hide your daughters.”
They know the men by their muddy work boots
and eternal sunburns, by eyes lined
too deeply and too young
from squinting into the sun twelve hours a day.
They know the women by the big pickup trucks
we drive, too large for our frames, but just right for
pulling a small house down the interstate every few weeks.
We leave the powerful diesel engines running
when we stop at the bank or for a carton of cigarettes
or gallon of milk.
Even though this is all pretend,
even though I am wearing a costume and
playing a part,
even though I’m not really here,
I want this. This life.
The freedom of space, of a movable place
to call home.
I want this life I walked away from
so long ago.
They say you can never go back and
I never thought I wanted to, but
is it going back if it’s on my own terms,
I’ve always enjoyed being an outsider and
am rarely at home in the spaces I inhabit,
but I am at home here, without a home,
in this mobile life of everywhere and nowhere,
where the view from your front door
changes overnight and your little piece
of the sky follows you down the highway
with every change of address.
The open road has been calling me
my whole life, but I wouldn’t answer,
afraid of what would happen if I listened
and let go, but now I have my map and my compass,
I can read the signs in the sky and in my heart.
If every road leads me back to where I want to be,
why don’t I just get in the car?
Fruit Stripe Barn
O fruit stripe barn,
in the wilds of western Illinois,
down an old highway
traveled only by those seeking to avoid others,
you rise from the oppressive flatness,
a beacon of whimsy
in the monochrome landscape.
What farmer planted you there and
what attack of fancy led to the pastel
stripes of your suit; every color of sherbet represented,
faded and peeling but still
colorful after all these years?
You are long disused, a crumbling monument to
different times, and I
can’t help but feel that you
remained standing just so that I
could see you this morning
and smile at your audacity.
Taking the old gold Mustang out on the backcountry roads. It’s older than I am but with decidedly more energy. The cassette tapes rattling around on the floorboard are all country music but the radio stations from the nearest town spit and crackle as I turn the dial so I grab a random handful and pop one in. The owner of the car said not to take it over 75—something needs to be replaced on the front end—and the sign says 55, but the car wants to go faster; I can feel it willing my foot down, begging for more gas. On an open stretch of emptiness the pedal touches the floor and I watch the speedometer with morbid fascination…65…70…The front passenger wheel starts vibrating a little too hard, but I don’t let off the gas…75…The car wants to know how fast it can go…80…I tell myself that I will turn back at the next crossroads but they pass in an unconsidered blur…85…Every curve leads to another…90…I finally understand the thrill of speed…95…I turn up the volume and sing along. Yes Garth, I also have friends in low places and you know what? They have faster cars than friends elsewhere. Naomi asks the same question that has been on my mind for weeks, “Baby, why not me?” I wonder if she ever got her answer…I lose my nerve just shy of 100 and I can feel the car’s disappointment as I back off the accelerator. I pull into the boarded-up driveway of an old strip mine and sit for a moment. The cows in the field across the street look at me. I look at them. I take a picture. I put the car into gear and back out onto the old highway, heading in the direction I just came from. The engine growls at me and I comply, even as I realize that we have both developed a taste for something dangerous.
Headspace: a record of my thoughts as I drive a big ass truck across two states by myself.
-Why didn’t I get to drive the Mustang? I don’t care if the tags are three years out of date.
-Why is the sun so fucking bright? I get it, you’re a big ball of fire!
-If every road leads me back to you, then why the fuck am I still in the car?
-If the welding machine slides out of the open tailgate and squishes someone behind me I am going to be really pissed.
-If the welding machine crashes through the cab of the truck and squishes me I am going to be really pissed.
-West Virginia is really, really pretty. And why are all the houses so tall and skinny?
-I just ate at a Waffle House. A Waffle House, for chrissake.
-I would kill for a salad and a glass of water.
-I need a shower—no, a bath. In witch hazel.
-Wait, what state am I in?
-I both feel and smell like the bottom of an ashtray—at a Waffle House, circa 1987.
-Ashland? How are we in North Carolina? Oh, that’s Ashville…my geography sucks.
-I never thought I would hear myself say that I’m glad to be going to Kentucky.
-I’m on the historic Kentucky bourbon trail!
-I can’t believe coal mining is a thing people still do, it seems so Dickensian.
-Pink sky and blue mountains at sunset.
-Bird shit or bug guts?
-I like to be able to see the road in front of me, both literally and metaphorically.
-Cresting a hill at dusk, it feels like we’re driving into the sky.
Kentucky Spring: haikus
White butterfly flits
among the wildflowers and
trash, pausing to rest.
Purple tree among
the green, standing alone and
proud to be unique.
and their bachelor friend in the
rain, hunt for fat worms.
White blossoms, where did
you go? You were with me for
a week, then spring charged.
Woodpecker keeps time
between explosions at the
coal mine. Peck, peck, BOOM!
Fat bumblebee floats
to me, but I am not a
If, like the girl in the poem,
my soul is in the shape of a square,
as I suspect it is because I can
sometimes feel it riding inside me,
pressing against the cities of my interior
like a caged animal, ranging and wary,
attempting to bisect me on the lateral plane
like an illustration in an anatomy book,
incessantly questioning and
demanding answers I cannot supply.
If the square is what sings at the
thrill of chaos and the bubbling
endorphins that come with strife,
can I blame my bad decisions on it
so that I don’t have to accept responsibility
for a life of stagnation, credit card
debt, and loving unwisely?
If the square that is my soul
is addicted to trouble and heartache,
is it my fault that I have to sit on my hands
to keep from holding yours?
[*Note: “the girl in the poem” refers to the poem “She Considers the Dimensions of Her Soul” by Young Smith. It is collected in the book Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics.
I’m sitting on a hill behind the house watching the bonfire burn in the hollow below, listening to the crickets in the tall grass at one end of the yard and the frogs in their pond at the other. The birds have gone to sleep. The broken down trailer house and decrepit camper van next to its pile of old tires. The burned out shed just beyond the light of the fire, alive with shadows. Two black cats with white boots dart about looking for prey. In the week I’ve been here spring has come. The trees have some buds and a stand of them along the property line has acquired an explosion of white blossoms that drift about like snowflakes when the wind blows. The contents of the fire, a misspent life. A german shepherd wanders across the yard and stops in front of me. We are on eye level. He looks at me. I look at him. We don’t say anything. Then, based on some criteria of which I am unaware, he decides that I am a friend and runs happy laps around me, stopping to lick my face. Then he lays down next to me, insinuating his head under my hand for proper ear scratching, and settles down to watch the fire with me. I wonder who he belongs to. As I watch the flames I ponder the nature of fire. The flames and their coals smoldering below. The fires of passion. According to Yi-Fu Tuan in Space and Place, we are born with a fear of falling, but fear of fire has to be learned. The hard way…Fear of falling into the fire? The flames are eye-catching, they look flashy and dangerous, but it’s the coals you have to look out for, waiting to catch you unaware. I am afraid that I am playing with fire–coals–the smoldering remains of a teenage passion I believed long dead. But I can’t help but admire the way he reaches in, unafraid, to stoke the dying flames higher, nonchalantly shaking off the sparks landing on his arms and chest. My shadow from the top of the hill looms larger than life, a Titan. There were two of us, but now I am alone, my own Atlas. The earth supporting me even as I carry it on my shoulders. My white skin glows orange in the night.