October 6: “Passing Through Albuquerque”

At dusk, by the irrigation ditch
gurgling past backyards near the highway,
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods.

A Spanish girl in a white party dress
strolls the levee by the muddy water
where her small sister plunks in stones.

Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot.
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer.

Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm,
rocking the immense trees and whipping up
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool.

In the moment when the locusts pause and the girl
presses her up-fluttering dress to her bony knees
you can hear a banjo, guitar, and fiddle

playing “The Mississippi Sawyer” inside a shack.
Moments like that, you can love this country.

— John Balaban

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August 6: “Route 684, Southbound Rest Stop”

So you see why it could not have been a more humble moment.
If there was any outward sign of regalia
It might have been the twilight crowning of the day, just then,
A perfect moment of dusk, but changing, as a wave does
Even as you admire it. Because the southbound stop
Mirrors the one northbound where we so often find ourselves
At the beginning, southbound’s return holds the memory
Of northbound’s setting-out, and the grassy median between
With its undisturbed trees defines an elusive strip of the present
Where no one lives. After twenty-eight years of the trip,
It’s like two beakers of colored water — one green, one blue —
Have poured themselves back and forth, because
On one side we are tinted by remembering the other.
But this aspect of the journey, at least, we know we will repeat.
As dusk cohered that moment — aquas, pinks, violets —
Just at that moment as I was returning to the car
A woman came the other way, her two young daughters
Holding her hands, and the gloaming sparkled around them
So that I froze, as they were backlit, starry,
They were the southbound reminder of who I had been beginning
The trip. She didn’t look like me, but what I did recognize
Was her clarity of purpose, in what Sharon Olds called
the days of great usefulness, making life as nice
As she could for them, always writing the best story,
And also, beneath her skin, living with delight as quiet
As the shoots anchoring grass beneath the earth.
I walked back to my car. My husband sat in the driver’s seat,
Our weekend’s luggage thrown in back.
Tell me we really had those girls, I said,
and that they held my hands like that. When I got home
I pictured her helping them each into bed — I knew it was
Later than she had hoped — then reading
Each section of the paper’s terrible news, finally alone.
— Jessica Greenbaum

July 14: “Virginia Evening”

Just past dusk I passed Christiansburg,
cluster of lights sharpening
as the violet backdrop of the Blue Ridge
darkened. Not stars
but blue-black mountains rose
before me, rose like sleep
after hours of driving, hundreds of miles
blurred behind me. My eyelids
were so heavy but I could see
far ahead a summer thunderstorm flashing,
lightning sparking from cloud
to mountaintop. I drove toward it,
into the pass at Ironto, the dark
now deeper in the long steep grades,
heavy in the shadow of mountains weighted
with evergreens, with spruce, pine,
and cedar. How I wished to sleep
in that sweet air, which filled–
suddenly over a rise–with the small
lights of countless fireflies. Everywhere
they drifted, sweeping from the trees
down to the highway my headlights lit.
Fireflies blinked in the distance
and before my eyes, just before
the windshield struck them and they died.
Cold phosphorescent green, on the glass
their bodies clung like buds bursting
the clean line of a branch in spring.
How long it lasted, how many struck
and bloomed as I drove on, hypnotic
stare fixed on the road ahead, I can’t say.
Beyond them, beyond their swarming
bright deaths came the rain, a shower
which fell like some dark blessing.
Imagine when I flicked the windshield wipers on
what an eerie glowing beauty faced me.
In that smeared, streaked light
diminished sweep by sweep you could have seen
my face. It was weary, shocked, awakened,
alive with wonder far after the blades and rain
swept clean the light of those lives
passed, like stars rolling over
the earth, now into other lives.

— Michael Pettit

July 8: “At Burt Lake”

To disappear into the right words
and to be their meanings. . .

October dusk.
Pink scraps of clouds, a plum-colored sky.
The sycamore tree spills a few leaves.
The cold focuses like a lens. . .

Now night falls, its hair
caught in the lake’s eye.

Such clarity of things. Already
I’ve said too much. . .

Lord,
language must happen to you
the way this black pane of water,
chipped and blistered with stars,
happens to me.

— Tom Andrews