But For the Hallucinogenic Nature of Highways
I would have gone mad long ago but for
the steady parade of telephone poles
the sky and clouds after a rainstorm reflected
in the hash marks of rumble strips.
On US 22 toward Altoona windmills wave
from the hills arms spinning a syncopated rhythm.
Driving encourages strange thoughts like
I want to give birth to something.
Too old for children I imagine a rock.
The windmills align as I drive—
four arms now five now four waving
at me alone I’m sure and not the pickup
behind me driven by a teenage girl in an orange baseball cap
or the tractor-trailer farther back but gaining
on us we lonely motorists unsupervised yet obedient
always staying between the lines.
My madness would have been personal and unkind as it was
for my mother. Don’t believe the myth of creative genius
though my mother deeply artistic succumbed
to the tidewaters of internal thought
the way seaweed succumbs and settles at low tide.
Once I watched a heron on the south Irish coast
step elegantly over a bouquet of rockweed
to catch a gunnel or small eel some long squirming thing.
The bird was stoic the prey beautiful in its own way
the rockweed extravagant swirls of vesicles and leaves
radiant with rot. But we are a long way from the ocean
with its life swarm and decadent fermentation.
We are left instead with a futile desire to define
madness or art. They are not the same. Don’t believe it.
Solitude says Michael Ondaatje is just a resting place.
Actually he is quoting an unnamed woman.
Solitude is not an absolute she says.
We go to the stark places of the earth
and find moral questions everywhere.
I once dumped three kuhli loaches in tall roadside grass
and left them there to die. I am not proud of this.
I was moving. Up ’til 4 a.m.—carload after carload
of clothes still on hangers, books in brown paper bags,
a suitcase full of shoes. No room for the aquarium,
fish too big for the toilet.
Pine trees flank this highway, felled in asterisks—
great false stars along a road of such profound inertia
even the sumac and crown vetch tumble toward convergence—
a pinprick where all comes together: the road, the sky,
the hills and trees. A place of unseen intensity or oblivion.
I want to believe in stunning weather—gale wind rotations,
a benevolent violence that creates on terra firma something
resembling the heavens, though lumberjacks laid down
these starlike pines, the angle of the saw just so, a controlled crash
in domino whorls. Is it blasphemous to imagine
an intricate symmetry—the swoop of a wheat field sickle
balanced against an icy comet ellipsing past Neptune?
A tendril of lima beans weaving through a trellis
as one tectonic plate nudges another? Time is a construct
but all night and day the universe happens in alluring simultaneity.
It’s so seductive. The mind brims with causal fallacies,
but a zillion atoms still vibrate in concert. Tires sing against pavement
and the world whirs by through open windows.