Sunday, July 11, 2010

Badlands by Way of Bus, 1983

This is a poem based on one of the many teenage memories i have of being shuttled back and forth the US by greyhound bus. We rode for 3000 mile, 4 day treks across the states after my parents got divorced and chose to live on opposite coasts. I have not been able to shake, for decades, the sad impression south dakota and generally many parts of middle america left upon me. The people and the places seen from a bus window. A grievousness threaded through those unending, arid, desolate areas that i could not ignore or shrug off. It seemed to overcome me... and the heat-- suffocating! To be sure, the sad world of it mirrored the room of my own heavy heart.

Badlands by Way of Bus, 1983

The summer my mother sent me back east
to let my father handle things
I saw South Dakota streak itself
into one hot, monotonous painted nude.

There, linear beige landscape edges
blurred and drowsed in the browning
noontime heat. The whole busload of us
lumbering in and out of restless sleep
across that flat bleary expanse
of ochre prairie
and acres of lashing grass.

It overcame me, all that impossibility
and lifelessness; dead from trying
as far as the eye could see
save the apparition of austere green mileposts.
They existed as the only place of interest
once my Sony Walkman batteries quit.
The steel rectangular markers
racked up points of desperation.
Always approaching
then leaving. Counting off failure
and lost hope in whole numbers
to me and the other passengers:
you are going somewhere;
you are going nowhere.
I watched them grow in size
to infinity—
Until they didn’t count at all.

Miles later
an oval-shaped, peach sign face
broke the monotony
as we lurched into Rapid City.
Up ahead, it waved to me—
as if making a promise
above the baking pavement heat
until I realized
it was just another gritty teenage girl
like me. A runaway, I guessed,
strapped down with a crappy knapsack.
In a t-shirt with no bra,
and jeans that had been drawn upon
with magic marker—her thighs covered
in peace symbols, butterflies and hearts.

I would runaway from here too,
if I were smart, I thought, as I watched
the gust from our stopping bus
blow dust and lift her
cornsilk hair high up
in mermaid waves.
I heard the word, Caliente
hiss like compression brakes
from the Montana farmhand
who carried a duct-taped cardboard box
as luggage. He clucked his tongue
from the back of the bus
having been waiting
to read a sign like this
since clear back in Bozeman.

--Tammy Robacker

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