“There: An Epistle,” by Andrew Feld

And when I passed and drove away from there,
The line of motorcycles in my rearview mirror
Veered off the interstate in a smooth arc
Distance streamlined the differences off of, as their dark
Levis and leathers blacked out their pale skins
And then their streaming numbers swallowed them.
So the helmetless outlaw with the mutton-chops,
Black hair blown behind him like his brain’s exhaust,
And the middle-age spreading couple stuffed
In matching Harley outfits, postures stiff
As seated children at a formal dance,
Blended together in current curved against
The bank of their low-centered gravity.
Sprung free in my determined trajectory
To you, Pimone, I was surprised by a sudden
Odd pang of loss coupled with irritation—
That too-familiar sense of being excluded from
A community I never wished or asked to join.
The butch-regalia’d mob which carried me,
As if borne by an explosion, across three
States where the plains display such reticence
As one ascribes to the sullen self-defens-
Ive plea of an embarrassment of dirt and sky
(Don’t stop, Traveler, don’t think: drive on, drive by)
Cohered into a humming whole, then thinned
Into a fuse by the dun hills tampened
Out completely, as my long westering slog
Passed from epicenter to epilogue.

Belovèd, how in these distances are fixed
The cloudy locutions of a rhetoric
Enchanted by its own stupid music!
How, gliding along, these bikers are paralleled
By larger, iconic versions of themselves
As if they glided down the portrait-hung
Corridor of a great house, a hallway leading
To the horizon-hinge, which opens, and then
You’re on the other side of the billboards,
Where there’s scaffolding, the road toward
Wyoming, and you feel as if an after-shock
How their great hits trembled our green Civic,
How static amplified becomes applause,
And how South Dakota is to Wyoming as
TV is to the big screen. Kind of a let-down,
Really, how in my rearview Sturgis browned
Out, switchgrass twisted int the trucks’ back-draft,
And I was an eye inside an eye, looking back.

When I passsed through and was so briefly there
All I felt was a sense of lessened pressure,

Not an azure, dream-pulsed awakening
But a kind of leeching-off, a suppuration.

Then, to refute my ill will’s sour self-taste
The signs announced my passage to a state
Where different rules applied—no more billboards!
And to enhance that sense of progress toward
An unseen goal borders are for, the highway curved
Through crumpled hills and closely cropped pastures;
The uplands rising to the great divide—
Seen now, as the landscape opened to provide
Sudden, heart-stopping panoramic views
Of peaks, the pangs of distance sharpen to
Inverted points of empty, metallic gray
Against, until the road twists me away
From that vision, towards the point of this
Poem, its destination and genesis.
A snapped-off piece of road straight up a hill
Pitched steep as the bucket of sand Lukas will
Dump on the beach, in the now-past future,
And on the margin’s dirt like sun-dried leather,
Bird and prey. Alone, on the opposite side
Of all the traffic swarming towards what I’d
Been through, I slowed to 40, 30,
20, 10. Then what at first had seemed only
Part of the casual slaughter of our highways—
Crow, hawk, vulture, fawn, doe, stag—and O days
Spent in the in-between, lost, desiring, time’s kill—
Revealed itself as a golden eagle
Choking, or claiming by the neck—a goat?
No, knuckled graphite horns: an antelope.
Head twisted around as in The Exorcist,
Owl-wide, pink slip of tongue between black lips.
Its animal athleticism, so freshly killed,
Gave to the strip of dirt where its guts spilled
A still-vibrant significance which far
Exceeded the lane of fast-food wrappers,
Piss-filled bottles and stubbled weeds we’ve left
Allotted to its kind. I felt the death
Blow on my neck, transfixed into the here
And now by what possessively returned my stare,
As the brown bird shrank in my rearview mirror
(I had to move), watching me watch it disappear.

From Raptor, coming soon from the Phoenix Poets series at University of Chicago Press. Many poems in this book encounter predatory birds; read a few more here.

Andrew Feld is the author of Citizen (read some here), and the editor-in-chief and poetry editor of The Seattle Review.



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