15 CONDITIONS OF THE TOURIST AT REST & IN MOTION
Nicole Cartwright Denison
- County Line, Road #23— Note the shoulders, haunch of the roadway, how workers delineate domain from destination, each listing with a natural inclination toward home.
- The syncopation of traffic signals indicates relativity to motion in time, the distance between two points: westbound lanes travel into the future; eastbound, the past. The median watches patiently: everything must pass his way.
- Intersections inform as to the culture of an area, a peculiarity of region, slice-of-life scenarios. Stripmalls indicate a predilection for conformity, the death of our former lives.
- A woman travels with a dog: breed unspecified. She tells you in line for breakfast that her sister is sick—this is all she will say, wanting to share in her stare, her automatically drawn mouth, you should know what with. Opelika lies at the end of 328 miles between them. You pass her barely making the speed limit at marker 41.
- Compasses are ruined closer to the equator: magnetic, true North no longer registers. Spins are integral to discerning directions now.
- Upon watching planes pass closely at the airport hotel you
- realize, after squashing an irrational fear of one crashing into this very window, amid the blinking lights and landing gear
- rationalize that Rate, Distance, & Time exist on paper only,
mere measurements of experience,
each a pleasure, however brief.
- Historical Markers abound: their tell-tale brown reminds how each acre became a battleground, blood memories kept vivid, a Confederacy hard won, lost again and again.
- The journey of 1000+ miles continues with the rev of an engine, a fill-up, a tollway of potholes, as increments pass, clicked upon an atlas, this neverending blacktop abacus.
- Last leg of the trip: highway hypnosis increases with each cloverleaf, every bridge iced in winter, stars adrift in cloudcover, their shadows shine our way, their light having dimmed long ago.
- Roadside Assistance: A highwayman possesses great nerve between guardrails and the whinny of engines. He extracts another wheel carved into pavement, imagines he hears the lingering screech, fingers skidmarks, reaches the dreaded end of the line.
- One Lane Bridge: A headlight highbeams its way into infinity, at speeds which travel prismatic through December's icy dimensions; fog (or a swerving animal masquerading as such) its only enemy.
- Another Roadside Attraction: Tourist Traps suffice for gag gifts, the scenes of a ViewMaster sometimes larger than roadkill, an invalid life, the curse of the homebound sure in its track.
- cardinal direction: another rootless origin: imaginary species: known for locations due Southeast in winter, Midwestern plains, shelves of books, state lines, national boundaries.
- depicting the wind: a flower will wilt in tempest, best to conjure semaphore, translate this dialect of suffering.
- compass rose: 32 points in the Portuguese; 16 modernized. if only it weren't whole continents dividing us.
These poems sprang from a December 2008 round of live-haul deliveries to Mississippi while I was also participating in the Poem-a-Day workshop at ITWS—those logistics were difficult to swing at best. It felt like we were headlining the Rock Stars of Trout Tour with each weekly 12-hour drive, hotel stays, tourist sites and roadside naps.
When my husband and I are on delivery routes, phrases and narratives naturally start percolating, from street names, people we meet, litter alongside the highway, our conversations, everything building poems, so I jot them down and follow to the ends of their proverbial roads.
The Interstate is a system of powerful ribbons connecting and bisecting us and it's fascinating to travel long distances by truck, seeing what's sprung up around each exit, formed into cookie-cutter cities, their similarities: restaurant-chains and big-box stores and hotel/motels and familiar, small economies which have replaced small towns. It's still the best way to see America, or what's left of it.
And, since I prefer a mix of backroads with the blank and bumpy Eisenhower asphalt, I never turn down the chance to go: you never know who or what you'll see, or what the ending will be.