Four Days, 1948 Miles, and a Few Photos

Rainbow, UtahOn Day One she pointed the tiny car north and drove in the middle lane through multiple construction zones, truck brakes crying all around her, billboards and fast food crowding the horizon until she angled northeast into the California desert, where northbound cars pushed 80 and she stopped to get gas and pee at a Vegas truck stop casino, smiled away the invitation of a silver-haired slots-playing man to sit on his lap, then got back in the car and drove hundreds more miles to Utah, where early in the evening she curved around a mountain to behold multiple rainbows, bright behind clumps of dark rain drifting down from the mountaintops like Spanish moss in the sky.

On Day Two she steered the car east into Zion and hiked among red bluffs rising thousands of feet above the Virgin River, where along a ridgeline she placed a rock on top of a small cairn, and from which she descended to drive for many hours throughZion cairn   unfamiliar Utah mountains, mountains that demanded silence, so she turned off the music and contemplated them, their pink and red and blue unearthliness, and how she wanted more life, another lifetime or two, please, Zion flowersto see it all, to live there, and when darkness fell she was alone and tired so she tucked the tiny car behind a semi and kept exact pace with him all the way through western Colorado until she flashed him a thank-you, turned off the highway, drank some whiskey and went to sleep.

On Day Three she went to the breakfast room of her cheap Colorado hotel and filled two styrofoam cups with watery coffee while contemplating the exact sameness of cheap hotel breakfast rooms nationwide – the waffle maker with its pre-filled cups of batter and piercing shriek, the reconstituted scrambled eggs, the miniature fridge with miniature cups of yogurt and packets oComfort Innf butter, the knob-turn containers of Raisin Bran, Cheerios and Froot Loops, the milling guests – and, while waiting her turn for the oatmeal, an older man whose lean leathery look and worn hiking boots marked him as a lifelong outdoorsman smiled at her and said, “Where you from?” and when she answered “Vermont, Minneapolis and California,” he said “Me too,” which made her laugh, but no, it was true, he grew up in Minneapolis, worked for years in Vermont on the Green Mountain Trail, and then spent the rest of his career in the forest service in southern California, all of which made her realize again, for the rest of that 630-mile day from snow-covered Rockies to sea-level Nebraska, how huge the world is and also how small.

On the last day she drove east through endless seas of greening prairie, angled north through southern Iowa, crossed the border into Minnesota, where most of the license plates were blue and white like hers, filled the tank of the tiny car for $23.15 at a truck stop where the diesel pump next to her readPoetry hut, flowers $214.89, and finally, on the far horizon, saw the skyline of Minneapolis reaching toward the sun, sparkling glass and stone, and remembered Neil Young shaking his head and saying once, at a solo show downtown at which he was surrounded by candles and smoke, “Growing up in Winnipeg, we thought of Minneapolis as the promised land,” and as she pulled up on Emerson Avenue in front of a house that looked familiar but different, the way a place looks when you’ve been gone a long time, she realized that her life itself was different now, that with children grown and work that was done on a laptop, the geography of home was no longer defined by necessity but by the whereabouts of those she most loved, which meant that she was now a tricoastal nomad, and that made her happy.


Prose Poem of the Week, by Tomas Transtromer

Right now I’m on a road trip, driving from California to Minnesota. Yesterday I hiked in Zion National Park and then drove for many hours through unfamiliar Utah mountains. These were mountains that seemed to demand silence, so I turned off the music and contemplated them, listening to what they had to say to me, which was something along the lines of why don’t you live here, where you could be silent most of the time and no one would care, no one would notice, because all there are here are mountains and desert and vastness. I was 18 the first time the west drew me to itself, and I wish I had a whole other lifetime to see what life would be like in this unearthly land. This poem –that line Our life has a sister vessel which plies another route– is what the west feels like to me.


The Blue House, a prose poem by Tomas Transtromer, trans. Goran Malmqvist

It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.

It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush,  from the inside.

On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.

Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.

The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind which the gilded frame cannot subdue.

It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.


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Poem of the Week, by Denise Levertov

1) Once, a long time ago, I stood at a pay phone in southern Florida, trying desperately to make the person on the other end of the line stay on the line. As I talked, an albino frog jumped from a hiding place onto my clenched hand and stayed there like a blob of putty. 2) Another long time ago, I decided to spend the day at my toddler’s pace. It was one of the longest days of my life –no Hurry up, come on, let’s go— and one of the sweetest. 3) The other day, I started to wash dishes and saw a brown shape in the drain sink. A small lizard, motionless. We scooped him up in a tall glass and released him onto a patch of weedy grass. What these three memories have to do with this poem, I don’t really know –maybe something about each minute the last minute— but they all came into my head when I read it.

– Denise Levertov

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.


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Poem of the Week, by Tina Kelley

Sometimes I lie in the hammock at my shack in Vermont and look up –way up– at the two white pines it’s roped between. One of those white pines is so huge that it scares my friend. She thinks it holds too much power, like a keeper of the gates, but that’s what I like about it. Trees, trees, trees and me go way back. All the mountains I’ve hiked up, where the trees get shorter and spindlier until they disappear, and there’s nothing but the sky and rock and you. Once, I beheld a gray owl on a tree limb. I tilted my head left, the better to take him in, and so did he. I tilted right, and  so did he. We stood that way for a long time, regarding each other. There could be worse things than being descended from trees.

Having Evolved From Trees
– Tina Kelley
We are hazel-eyed.
Some things we are certain of:
Sun in the forest adds extra rooms.

We hide inner twisting under our skin.
A beehive within is a blessing.
Never play with matches. Ever.

We teach: to bloom, to fruit, to peel,
to heal in a swirling burl,
to suffer pruning silently.

We remember the itch of chickadees,
blue air of twilight like a shawl,
the liquor it resembles. We taste with whole selves.

Our women are never too stocky, don’t diet.
Our day — dressing, bedding down — is a year.
At weddings we wear wrensong tatting in our hair.

We converse in the pulses of rained-on leaves.
Our god is wind. We need no heartbeat.
We worship by swaying, masts in a marina.

Our low song, too low, withers and flaps.
We sanctify the privilege of embrace,
of running, the afterlife of dance.

The sun pulls life through us,
up and flaring, a yellow scarf
from a magic tube, higher, wider.

We die with loved ones, rot in their presence,
nourish their offspring and watch
the continuance, ever, exulting.

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Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

A couple of years ago I read that Naomi Shihab Nye was going to be speaking at a local school that night, free, everyone welcome to attend. I zipped over and sat right in the front row of a small room and drank in everything she said and everything she read. If my favorite foods are what people call comfort food – things like potstickers, peanut butter cookies with the crisscross fork mark on top, soups simmered in a big cast iron pot – then Naomi Shihab Nye is the poetry equivalent of comfort food, but never in an anodyne or predictable way. She is a poet who begins with a thing, a real, tangible thing (and I am a writer who loves the thingness of things) and from that thing she somehow spirals a kite of words up into the air and stitches it to feelings and experience in a fearlessly human way that makes me feel more connected to the world.

The Rider
– Naomi Shihab Nye
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

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