Remember America? Remember TV? What about Jesus?
God, I was nostalgic for all that before I ever even thought of leaving it. I loved it and lost it in every breath. And the women. Oh my God, the Tennessee women I could have, the North Carolina and Alabama women I couldn’t. The loft and spread of the cheekbones on that half-Cherokee woman in the moonlight.
And virginity. Remember that? My half virginity, and the half virginity of an exaggeratable number of girls who were women while I was still a boy, and the puddle of mist in Shenandoah over, wait…not this rise, not this rise—there! Take me home.
The mountain women and the holler women and later the highplains women with eyes so blue you could see the rapture in them. Always and everywhere Jesus in every notch and defile of the landscape.
The never quite having sex. Holding out, holding on. The truth of desire.
And the not having failed much, remember that?
There have only been two things I’ve ever had any talent for: cliff-skiing and writing. The one is generally too dangerous for an adult to practice on a regular basis, and as for the other, I do a little now and then if my knee is feeling okay.
Cliffs and pages, you just keep going down. You learn to manage the descent.
As a family, we’ve come to rest at the bottom, in a big city phalanxed onto the dried clay bed of Lake Iroquois, most of which flowed off down the St. Lawrence about seven thousand years ago. So it must not be the absolute bottom. It’s a good place, and all the people of the world come here. Good enough, certainly. From here we can see America, indulge our old capacity for simultaneous loving and leaving.
Following directions in the new city, my wife, my pledgling, remembers left and right at each corner by quickly citing the beginning of the Pledge of Allegiance and touching her hand to her heart.
You bide your time. One does. You screw up your courage, plan a trip. Shuffle your pronouns, like the way old environmentalists—they—used to deploy aliases, not merely to hide from the government, but to implicate everyone. Leave open the possibility that anyone could be a serious environmentalist, that your enemy might be your friend, that strife might be an illusion of subjectivity. That the infiltrator might have been infiltrated by love.
Take a few years to rest on the lakebed, then suddenly one night you’re shuffling off alone to Buffalo in a Dodge, and you find that you’re really going to do it. Come down into America from the top. Fall.
Later, you’re writing about it—we, you plural, I, and so on—and you (singular) shift the register, because there’s too much love and anger to tell it straight.
So you go:
Fortunately I have never had a head for politics, or I might have faulted myself for misunderstanding the premise of America’s northern frontier. The government’s (governments’) repeated insistence that this is the world’s longest undefended border appears, to my deficient understanding, to be entirely correct. Although there is no lack of armament, and no apparent unwillingness to use it at the least provocation, any activity so carefully calculated to dispose visitors to despise the nation could hardly be the work of its friends, and one is inclined to feel as if therefore the nation’s enemies were guarding the border, which of course amounts to no guard at all. And so we find ourselves agreeing that surely this must be the world’s longest undefended border.
We were thus a little surprised to find ourselves in a vehicle called Dodge—already a strange place for an honorable member of City Without Cars—with two bigbooted men standing in front of us, their fingers as twitchy for their six-guns as in the classic showdown, while a third berated us savagely on a point of protocol with which he happened to differ with the government of Canada. Here in the OK Corral we were all assiduously following the script of a number of classic westerns (I was providing the part of the cringing tavern keeper) when the guards suddenly and unexpectedly waved our Dodge, my Dodge, into the country. A deviation from the script. That level of brutality, pistol whipping with the mouth, if you can imagine that, should have been a prelude to shooting me, but here I was not only allowed to get away, but invited into the country. Curiouser and curiouser.
Down into America I come, acquiring poets, pushing through the night. With the logic of desire rather than sequence—Buffalo, Finger Lakes, Catskills, but presided over always by the same moon—one of those women with whom I never had sex is riding shotgun. She’s a half poet now. We’re all a little older, and we’re singing low bridge, everybody down, low bridge ‘cause we’re coming to a town, and you’ll always know your neighbor, you’ll always know your pal, if you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal. “Ever never,” we say, “ever never gated.” And the woman’s boyfriend the poet is riding jumpseat, and he chants a schoolboy song of California. Of America we sing.
In the klieg lights of the toll booths the greenbacks seep red, and the woman thinks I’m joking when I say I’ve never seen that before, since if I’m not America, who is, and I couldn’t possibly have been gone that long.
Crossing the Hudson my friends call out America. Even the non-rhyming poet, who can write past the censors, is calling out America in his own way. My left hand is on the wheel and my right hand is in the place it would be if I were to follow my heart.
The road running one way in space will surely run another way in time, and I’ll come home to you, my love. Are you hearing me? You had put aside your book of Lacan and had said, stay true to your desire. The only pronoun (you) was implied. But it was enough.
I’m coming home to you.
DAVID Ker THOMSON was in the company of poets at the Bard College Language and Thinking summer program. Dave.email@example.com