Terrain.org Columns.


Brett Foster


West on I-70 Across the Land of Lincoln

Dear one,
            one we had to leave in Boston,

I wish I could say more about Illinois
(or at least the eastern part) than “It’s there.”
No prolixity of praise disguised here.
Maybe the statement’s unfair, my eye lazy:
the landscape cries out for the observant
one who can ponder the miles of tattered shoulders
of corn stalks, deep green field dusted with
disheveled husks, the stranded oak and ash
in islands at the field’s edge. Their dark foliage
is streaked with blighted leaves. Maybe
there’s energy in me yet—No. Short of water,
diseased, or heat-blanched, what does it matter?

They’re there and painless will remain, but we,
we are always moving, and so maintain
our distance—Korea, California.
We joke about the tribal, how we’d like
to reinstate that people-ness. I hope
we mean it, too. Long hours across the plains
ahead, awaiting us beyond the sunset,
enduring lane that’s growing  narrower.
I need to believe it, that we’ll inhabit
the same block someday, in some forgotten
town—one of these—not even of our own
choosing. What would it matter? Once again
together, we’d have no reason to decline.
“Anywhere” could be no better. We’d be
where we were.

There’s color too in the very character
of all that’s been constructed, little towns
we pass through, Greenup, Brownstown, Greenville,
and local color of the faded billboards:
Wickiup Motel, Nuby’s Restaurant,
a foot-high pie at the Blue Springs Inn.
Once fed and boarded, our fresh attention
turns to commerce: Fostoria’s glassware,
which makes me look twice, a clearance sale
to kill for at the Buck knife outlet store:
Adjacent, a plywood jack-in-the-box,
Ronald McDonald’s insidious smile,
sinister as ever as he gestures
with mad waves to entice the wandering
cravings in the minds of children.


She cried twice just this afternoon, I think
you ought to know these things. The first time sprung
out of nowhere. We were worrying about
those boring moving practicalities,
then a pause, the hum of car noise—
lost in her eruption of sobs, too soon
to explain, though she tried with stunted words.
I interrupted, like an oaf, “What?! What?”
It startled me, I thought I’d hit a dog
or something, or had forgotten the cat
back in Boston and now realized the fact.
I should have known. I believe I heard it
in the tone of her grieving, to arrive
and not find you there, to be less alert,
despite the belligerence of the heart.

She resumed later, but this time softly,
as if arranging sadness on the staff
of your friendship. The first, a violence
to answer the ecstatic moments or
revenge their absence, and its successor
nearly inaudible, yet sent to echo
in its way the tenderness between us
still present somewhere, imparted from you
toward my wife, shaken in this burdened car.
“What is the city but the people?”
She just found this in Coriolanus.
This afternoon, I thought you ought to know


From the high point of the highway we seem
to hover above the squat, fiberglass
prayerhouse near the Cross of Victory Church.
A large sign says Porn Destroys the Family                             
and stands immodestly at the forefront
of the property; thirty seconds later
we see the reason why: adult book store
farther along the access road. What good
the location? A late-night terminus
for lonely truckers? I can only wonder
as it vanishes in the mirror. I’m stirred
by such mysteries, layers of culture.
Due north of here, the ancient arrowhead
mounds of Cahokia, the small museum
a hokey, field-trip reminder of this state
in a state of nature, from which all this
has grown. Then as now, so faintly but as sure,
the land leads us to our own conclusions,
allows for our peculiar revelations,
how the roadside detritus of business
differs little from that of my home state,
fast approaching just beyond the Gateway
to the West. But there I cherish or gainsay
each embarrassment like a yearbook portrait:

Cafe Presley, and that dirty warehouse
abounding with concrete lawn ornaments,
or Itchy’s Flea Market outside Creve Coeur.
It’s not about them, but seeing them again,
just these. They witness to the native pull
of familiar soil, where even the most
ridiculous can gloss the Beautiful.
But you know what? I’m coming to discover
that this is, finally, untrue. Nothing more
than a favorite stretch to be passed just once
or once before, a garish nostalgia
diminished now by the light of higher
matters, other losses we must learn from:
age, action, changes of fate, commitments                                                          
that insist we’re here, you’re there, and that’s that.

Will write again when we get there.



Brett Foster's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Columbia, Hudson Review, Image, Kenyon Review, Literary Imagination, Missouri Review, Poetry East, Raritan, and Southwest Review. He teaches Renaissance literature and creative writing at Wheaton College.
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