You know how a place translates you? How when you move in a place you've moved to, the air in your lungs carries new weight and the light carves land into language you can't hold and the clothes you bought last month start to chafe in odd places?
You know how it feels to be a stranger? To have no idea "what is below the level of the visible?" To have no idea how to see fields and flatlands, domed sky, histories made and undone here, where I stand?
You know what it means to come to live in the kind of town that signifies traveling through-- whistling all-night freight trains, lumbering Macks, the sweet neon of roadside hotels, American crossroads to anywhere?
Do you know what traces of itself this town has erased hidden knocked down gnawed off?
"What is a (wo)man who has no landscape?"
"Nothing but mirrors and tides."
teeny houses hunker down for day's slow crawl
porches stretch south at 45 degrees
walnut-paneled warrens clutch at tight shoulders
cement-blocked RVs sit lit, preoccupied--
I pass for miles on straightaways, sucking air, tailpipe kissing flat ass,
looking for snow--
I wanna tongue your snowbelt down a little lower--
how to say this could be beautiful
how to say this is someone's home
church on every corner, down every dirt road
tanning salons spark state highways
thick heat sutures the midwest close--
america's burning heart, burning cross--
trains flay prairie gone to corn and plow--
flayed flat land is flayed flat body planted into chemical rot fertile treeless food ooze, trains like ventricles pump pump diesel fuming night tracks bones spread to moonlight's kiss and fuck my country tis of thee whistles to sleep butchered sheep rising to sit at the right hand of thin father's tight-fisted quitting cough jello voices gaggle and shiver tiny shoots towards greening belly, loamy muscle a sure shot for rooting tight
a kick in the gut, becoming
twitch and sway, we're tiny tiny lights against bitter winds pleasuring stretched skies
drive a midwestern state highway, parallel lines to a plowpoint, roots of
no return. fields are not the ocean. earth split open, black
musculature heaving green and gold ears north like pressing promises,
christian earthworks, ragged orchards, hybrid seed passing for breadbasket
recycling as income-producer, not an earth first move--
Thrust by which the eye penetrates space--
Whose body follows thrust into view--
Whose body becomes the landscape
becomes crisp-pressed land rising receding
whispering to make you lean closer--   touch me, there--
The shrinking of an object with distance implies the length of time needed to reach the object.
Or, we recognize a friend's face up to 80 feet, apprehend a body's gesture from 450 feet away.
focal points deflect,
bounce curves in the road.
orient people to themselves
as turning points,
what I'm remembering is what looks familiar:
stray wisps of hill, woods gripped dormant,
cricks rippling mobile homes peopling Andrew Wyeth browns:
sweet supplication, a legless sky:
place opening to home when a distant hillside restricted into panorama bursts suggestion like dappling rolled windows when I remember who wrote that song a lying down in exile river bend play it harder claims and the book about fugitives laterally bounded yet attentive to sudden shifts and drops in terrain renowned for relentless lengths of time--
abandoned farmhouses are chrysalides, desertion signifying hope.
In cities, buildings rarely stand alone--
Parts of rows viewed with angular distortion in passing--
Like sides of urban canyons--
Whose languages I hear in my hands--
Legible landscapes are composed, compose me, decompose, comply, compromise, confabulate,
Are composite functions factorable into two or more prime factors other than one and themselves--
tree soaked curl up track down fourbyfourbyfour
topographical maps mound
clinging red highways presumptuously belly-up pregnant with wrinkled letters
strengthened by vitamin D spreading fast
pressure clipped wings
interior monologue shreds in light rain's minimalism
an eclipse distorts through magnification's backward glance
little spy holes link newsprint to even hotter afternoons
Which of the two objects had been divinely ordained to be first?
He would have ordered us to put down roots---
He would have ordered us to beat a path---
migrations, invasions, wanderings, face---
From that point of view, house was the right answer.
Roads serve us by taking us home.
Left to their own devices
they tend to wander
into the wider environment
(Fugitive Cain built the first city)
Disqualified by genealogy
outclassed by the prestige of private space
roads suffered from neglect,
were dismissed as unsightly
merchants highway robbers invading armies.
As men and women for whom path and road stand human,
we are now less interested in origins than in what comes after---
railroad lines pipelines power lines flight lines assembly lines---
place freedom place freedom
Roads don't lead they are places
growth dispersion magnets growth dispersion magnets
look around your hometown.
take your landscape with you.
study everyday margins:
cornfields and backyards
abandoned plant life
Trees of Heaven
sunflowers in railroad yards
lilies in alleys
wild lettuce on a vacant lot.
our own native flora is bred for our violence.
it goes into winter condition with a bang.
camp followers are plants and animals, not always domesticated, which choose (for very good reasons) to live near people, to follow them when they move elsewhere:
weeds and insects
rats and mice
raccoons and deer
billboards and gum wrappers
assorted birds and relatives
prefer full sunlight, terrain disturbed
hate competition from other plants
seek an environment where the soil is open and bare
from which all existent plant life has been suddenly
removed from every plowed field
unwind where you can plant wheat,
jigsaw shoulder to shoulder
room to spare
not every plant
adjusts to such open
it's a vastly intricate business
which plants and people they will/
will not tolerate as neighbors,
and under what conditions.
Once upon a time,
the face of the habitable earth was everywhere
scored and crisscrossed by paths and tracks,
trails made by animals in search of other animals to eat.
Some led to waterholes, salt licks, plots of edible grass.
All the paths were bare of vegetation, and smooth,
took a meandering course.
Now we register posture, gait, how strangers respond to the presence
of others. As skill in walking---
reaction to motion along a prescribed path---
touching the sky has to do with where you are standing, how light seeps or shifts---
"The verb ‘to dwell'...used to mean to hesitate, to linger, to delay . . . to pause,
to stay for a length of time."
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
By the Register of the Vincennes Land Office,
An Entry Certificate
Dated June 3, 1816.
One-fourth of the purchase money paid
multiplied telescoped fast-forward
Dated July 1, 1996, 5% waitressing money down--
Lot Number One Hundred Eighty-three (183) in Collett Park Place, a Subdivision of Lots Numbers 15, 16 and a part of Lots 18, 19, and 20 in Barbour Place, a Subdivision of the South half of Section Ten (10), Township Twelve (12) North, Range Nine (9) West, as shown by the recorded plat therof, recorded in Plat Record 5 page 37, records of Recorder's Office of Vigo County, Indiana--
Living America's Dream
at its unremarked crossroads,
anchored with debt for a shared room of my own--
Oh Clabber Girl, Baker to America,
thanks for the warm welcome--
give us your poor
your tired and hungry
offer your full plate breadbasket lift that torch high
Pub. Feb. 1999