Saturday, January 18, 2014

Traveling by Starlight

In my life, many years have been spent traveling I-80 or I-90, heading west to explore or, later, going between my two lives, the one in Minnesota where most of my family and my two sons remained, and Santa Fe where I spent most of the oughts.

Many times I would travel through the night. I liked the feeling of being out there under the stars, me, myself, and a whole lot of eighteen wheelers. It felt as though an unspoken camaraderie had been established and I felt comforted by this.

Occasionally a rest stop was in order or, on more than one occasion, an exit that led to a closed gas station where I would wait with others who couldn't quite make it through the night. I kept the car locked and my antennae up, but I always felt safe in the company of my fellow travelers.

One night, I assisted a family trying to make it to Cheyenne and the promise of a job. Their note on the door of the rest stop bathroom told me what I needed to do. I told their story here:

When I opened my morning email to this poem, I was reminded of those times. For right now, I'm very glad to be snug and warm here in my home and not on the road to somewhere. But I sure do like this poem:


It's so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
by starlight,
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I've done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers' breath.
But instead of resting, I'd smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I'm not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything's fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I'm driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I've got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I'll be home by dawn.

~ Richard Jones, from The Correct Spelling and Exact Meaning. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010

Photograph by J M Hare