THE WHITMAN ISSUE
AT A REST STOP IN IOWA
........If the stars should appear
........One night in a thousand years,
........How would men believe and adore.
Like a lost jet homing the glide path, I arc
from the interstate and slot my car among
the others. Behind me semi's rest, silver bulks
tingeing the air with the astringent stink
of fuel, overheated brakes, hot rubber.
In the stillness, I sit, listening to my
cooling engine ping. I am here in pale blue
light that spills down from the stalks of the lampposts,
yet my body still hurtles on.
Returning from the restroom, I see that four
of the Winnebago tribe have circled
their motor homes, read that Nadine and Vern
from Wichita are here. All of us from
the four corners of nowhere, where we watched
our fondest hopes wander off to somewhere
and squander their talents. But such sad tales,
such low-down blues in the land of big dreams.
Yet now we pause here to sleep side by side--
a SUV from Jersey--a Caddy
from Duluth--a blue van from Del Rio
with an orange sunset on the glass--a pickup
from LA with four kids conked out in the back,
tangle of slender brown arms, golden hair
and the plaid cocoons of sleeping bags.
I stretch out in my back seat. When younger
I lay here in the flesh of my dream girls,
I who was myself a fantasy man.
Tonight I lie down with America.
And rummaging through her lost causes
and disheveled legends, I come across Old Walt,
lounging in a corner of my mind, a far piece
from Brooklyn. I remember his sleepers,
all dreaming their cosmic dreams, or so he hoped.
And think of the word "America," of us,
out beyond the late show and Letterman,
in the great sweet peace of sleep. The strangeness
of the word comes to me. And other words,
from grade school songbooks, come to me--
"Oh Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean."
Fifty feet away small animal eyes peer
from the forest of corn stalks. A country mouse
chances the owls and skitters the concrete
to capture a chunk of Chicken McNugget.
Out there night has pitched its dark tent. Nothing
moves near the red barns and silver metal
storage bins. Just soft sawing as the moon
draws the corn leaves higher. Six months from now
the closing stocks will flash--"Happy New Year--"
Now, programmed root tips probe through Indian bones
seeking precisely allotted water.
The smell of alfalfa comes like a prayer--
"Lord, we need another good year." Out there
a yeoman's tractor can cost 60-thou.
The Bottom Line becomes the family Bible.
But that's another dusty yarn. Now
the sounds of breathing rise over this spot.
In a nearby grove, where the owl's a shadow
among shadows, not an oak leaf trembles.
Through my car's side window two pale stars glint.
I know they are rushing away from me.
No word my slow tonogue can touch, I can tell you,
citizens, the wonder of their distance.
But I share this dream--one moment of wonder
at ordinary stars. I must sleep now.
There's been much heavy pondering this night
by groggy, foolish men with miles to go.
Knowing I'll hold my love tomorrow,
my flawed and imperfect, but honest love,
I blend into the rhythms of the night
and bless the sleepers around me. What more
could we come to than to rest together
for a heartbeat in the myth of our myth.
Here in Iowa--this twitch, this wink
in the eye of time. Out there the Republic
lies before us--vast and empty, absurd
and trampled and shamed and glorious as ever.
Rest now friends. Tomorrow we rise and drive on.
Mark DeFoe is Chairman of the English Department at West Virginia Wesleyan College. He has published six chapbooks: Bringing Home Breakfast (Black Willow, 1983), Palmate (Pringle Tree Press, 1988), AIR (Green Towers Press, 1998), Aviary (Pringle Tree, 2001), The Green Chair (Pringle Tree, 2003), and Greatest Hits (Pudding House Press, 2004). He has received two artists' fellowships from the state of West Virginia.