Launching from Connecticut at five PM
we could make Alabama tomorrow morning,
when the summer sky rises hot,
full, trembling with the daily swelter.
Eighteen hours seems long in any car
but at least we’ll slice the country
with your silver, sexy Subaru sedan.
Provisions are minimal; loaf of bread,
peanut butter, strawberry preserves, knife,
three changes of clothes, lighters, wallets,
fresh cash crisp from the bank, Garmin and CDs.
We pack the car with nicotine and booze—
Two packs menthols, a bag of tobacco,
rolling papers, a tiny tin of Snus,
Irish cream liqueur, a case of cheap beer,
a handle of whiskey, liter of rum—
as there’s no use denying we need both,
some to get us there, some to keep us there.
I believe we’ve been here before, I mean
you and I, not eastern Pennsylvania,
which rolls, dives, and stagnates on this highway,
before telling us we’ve barely left its heart.
I mean you and I, not this brand new car,
which renders maps useless with GPS
and does not gurgle when you hit ninety
on highway eighty-one, or refuse
ignition once we’ve stopped for gasoline.
I mean you and I, trapped willingly
together for claustrophobic hours,
envisioning a destination but hoping
it won’t keep our attention long,
knowing departure holds more hope
than all arrivals ever could. I mean you and I,
when the stars were eternity
over midnight oceans through the Strait of Malacca,
leaning on the rails of a bobbing ship;
when we ate mudfish eyes and drank snake wine
in Mekong Delta riverboat markets.
You and I, hopelessly drunk in Tokyo
bribing bouncers for pint glasses of rum,
slapping hundred thousand dollar blue fin tuna,
stony-eyed at the fish market.
You and I, now trapped somewhere in northern
Virginia, chain smoking out cracked windows,
wondering if cops patrol below Mason-Dixon,
or we can just cruise and tailgate
into this yellow-lined asphalt abyss.
I think these cities sound like fantasies;
Knoxville, Sweetwater, Chattanooga.
You don’t mind sleeping through morning skylines
with a pouch of minty tobacco stuck
between your gums. Interstates snake under sidewalks
like sewers; my blood-stitched eyes sting.
For a moment I regret missing my scheduled sleep
from midnight to four AM,
but I was worried you’d fall asleep driving
or I’d miss out on private jokes
you’d make to yourself. Now your eyes are slit
like a frog’s as you reach for the green pack,
pop a cigarette and spark a small flame.
This road barely feels real. I wonder when
we’ll see people stomping the streets; women
barely clothed in jean shorts, men in cowboy boots,
children with mullets. On the freeway,
every exit advertises Waffle House.
Crossing into Georgia you’re humming
with nicotine; I’ll never sleep again.
From the sun through the windshield this morning,
passing from Georgia to Alabama,
I see kudzu crawling down cement walls
lining the highway straight to Tuscaloosa.
Vines suffocate the land that feeds them.
We’ll be there soon, celebrate with coffee
cut by whiskey and Bailey’s, try to sleep
on a friend’s floor, swimming in humidity.
The new time zone extends the trip an hour;
you can’t believe one imaginary line
could fuck with your head so much.
My nine hour shift is done, but the steering wheel
embeds a round groove in my sweaty palm,
the gas pedal guides my sleeping foot,
the driver’s seat molds itself around me,
so I’ll guide the Subaru, nose-first
into the stretching sky which sat beyond
our eyes’ reach for 18 hours. And now
Tuscaloosa’s promise of blonde southern
college girls, unintelligible accents,
four dollar cigarettes, is all but certain;
still I wonder,
would you speak up if I tilted the car
straight west, just north of the destination,
crossing into Louisiana?
All that untouchable horizon.
Nothing to grasp but what passes us by.
About Brendan: Brendan Walsh is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Southern Connecticut State University. He is in the process of moving to Vientiane, Laos to teach English through a Fulbright Grant. He has worked at the Catskill Poetry Workshop, been a featured reader at The New American Writing Festival, and is an Anna Sonder Poetry Prize winner, as well as the recipient of the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize. He has been a featured reader at the New American Writing Festival and the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival’s Connecticut Young Poet’s Day. His life is a cyclical series of binges, existential crises, and epiphanies.