Driving Home in the Breaking Season

Article excerpt

There is no need of maps now, the interstate spooling south of Roethke's country gone sour: smokestacks thick as the risen fists of robber barons, the burly smudge of green he sang choked out by the Tonka Toy houses the same mile after mile. Even snow surprising in April can't soften Flint, the gray pall Buick slides over Ann Arbor. Creeks like steel rods in the buff ground made me think of fish stiff in the neck of Toledo. Wind- drift and grit surging through Ohio, toward Pittsburgh. Night, the bored disc jockey, Cackling bad jokes to keep us awake: sequence of motions through toll booths, more bad jokes counting the miles of rain into Pennsylvania Spring. Changing stations, I discover I've gone wrong above Altoona. It's too cold to be where I should be at this hour. At the truck stop the sleepy kid doesn't understand why he's 100 miles wrong and I spin the dial for any music, turning south once more until Maryland welcomes me and the lustery shield of Rt. 40 says Cumberland sleeps 37 miles west, its cupped coal hills hugging the family bones we walked away from for the sea. Is it high black air that makes me shiver or a room with an all-night light and a plant unwatered? Above D.C. a truckstop, eggs, coffee, one fat waitress greasy at the end of her shift, winking to teamsters pale as a slug's belly. They still hate long hair. For one dumb, instinctive instant I touch the book in my hip pocket, then sag and pay up. If only one would listen, I could make Roethke ring and coo all the hurts they haul in their grinding loneliness. …