We crossed through Appalachian ranges, lushly
rolling farmland that flattened to cornfields, listening
to Bowie albums all the way through, chatting
about everywhere we want, someday, to travel.
You ate a cheeseburger in every state
we crossed. My mind quieted. The northern block
of Texas was brittle and burning with August heat,
old Route 66 a lesson in entropy:
abandoned gas stations and motels, neon
signs unhinged, a twenty-foot cowboy boot
faded red and peeling. But the sky radiated
an impossible blue. The desiccated earth burned
umber, a low flame. By the time we reached New Mexico,
I could breathe. My body slackened. We stopped
by a giant crag that rose like an alien ship,
dubbed Tsé Bitʼaʼí by the Navajo,
“winged rock,” though it’s “Shiprock” on all the maps—
as if this weight could fly or sail away.
The contradiction moved me. I felt hope.
You felt it too, a lightening. Our lives
back home shrank until we could not remember
who we’d been before. Relief a desert breeze.
We took photographs. You left your cap on the roof
of the car, forgetting until we were miles away.
I said, No, we can’t go back. You understood.
I think about your cap sometimes, dusty
relic of the boy you were cradled in the arms
of a cactus or half buried in the sand.
Sometimes it is a comfort to think of it,
a token proving we were there. Sometimes
it is a sadness, a pang of something lost.
When we speak of that place—a rock with wings, a weight
miraculously lifting—we lower
our voices as in prayer. In the pauses between
our words, those sacred intermissions, I tell
myself you know I’ve done the best I can.
Photo by Ben Townsend, used and adapted under CC.