A Literary Series
Say you’re adrift like I am. Say it’s 81 miles from this spot to Next Services, plus or minus the sun in your eyes, and a cloud—no, that’s a contrail. A plane out front like a dot. Like the pilot decided to underline nothing at all, just blue, just whatever.
I’m not the unpaid extra in a saga, not the chef at a long-forgotten inn, though rain here is rare as a dragon and someone paved this road. They must have thought someone was coming.
Call this Highway 140. Call it Nevada. Call it Earth. But I haven’t seen a tree or a car for an hour. Even the road signs are alien: not Railroad Xing, not a cow or a deer, but burros and pronghorn antelope. There’s even one sign—no kidding—left totally blank. Just an empty yellow diamond.
Maybe it’s supposed to mean Boredom Crossing. Or maybe it’s meant to match the radio: no news, no preacher, no mariachi signal. Only me. Whatever I add up to.
Somebody cut those stencils once, and now they’re never used since who else, from here to God’s ladder, would ever have the need for wild burros, a herd of antelope?
They’re probably stacked away somewhere dusty. Or leaning against a wall. And the future won’t find them and think they’re hieroglyphics ’cause they’re not.
Then suddenly it’s Oregon. And nine miles in, it’s a cliff. And now I can see where those pronghorn are doing what they do: 52 hooves… maybe more.. . a dust cloud sweeping up below. So I figure this road started out as an antelope path, then we came along and widened it.
One day we might add a guardrail too, a metal stitch between cars and plunge. Though those pronghorn wouldn’t mind our wreckage; they’d use it to scratch. Rub up against. A rest stop.
At last I come to the western edge: Crescent City, California: redwoods connecting the ocean to the sky. It’s dark, but I know they’re there. I know the water out front of me is cold, so cold you’d have to be an otter to go in.
And I can see four of them, these chitter-squeak silhouettes, river otters not the fat ones. They’re visitors too. Everything must need the ocean.
There are birds here—stilts, or killdeer, or something—spearing hermit crabs out of the surf. The sound they make isn’t sparrow-song; it’s better than that.
Behind me, trucks groan their air brakes… this is Highway 101… and southbound cars rev up and find fifth gear. Plus, every 12 seconds: the foghorn. Every 17 seconds: the waves. And I know this isn’t music, but it’s more than noise. No wonder the sun keeps setting here.
What will I do in the morning? Listen.
And what will I listen to? Waves.
I suppose you could call this a sacrament; why not?
My dad died in April. I keep on wishing we could talk. He’d know why I noticed those otters out of place, downriver with the snowmelt. He’d tell me those birds are curlews, and he’d be right. What I mean is I miss him.
There’s probably someone you’re missing too. All I can say is I’m sorry.
There’s a sign in Nevada that’s blank. Because they’re gone.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.
Header photo by Auribe, courtesy Shutterstock.