There’s a photograph of me with bleached hair
and a red sweatshirt, holding up a frozen disk
of Tombstone pizza, on a long straight road,
yellow wilderness on either side,
a Badlands wind that made my fingers ache.
I was twenty-six and drunk with possibilities.
We had six days to reach the west coast in a borrowed car,
and we had to stay ahead of the snow.
There’s another photograph of me with an elk
blurry in the background. I’m leaning against a sign
that says CANADA 20 MILES, jaunty and smiling,
surrounded by white. We spent that night at a Motel-6,
four of us in two twin beds to save twenty bucks.
I was too paralyzed with awkwardness to sleep.
The tortured vowels of your Belfast Irish sounded
again and again in my head like a faulty LP, and I
was hounded by desire that sprang only from proximity,
branded on the hip where our bodies bumped
once in the narrow bed. You kept your back to me.
I thought about your wife, and kept my hands off you.
That was the trip I learned somehow to ski,
in Glacier National Park, on a gunmetal grey day.
We came upon a black expanse of lake and you
stripped off your shirt, and stood with your thin,
white back bared to the wind that smelled of snow.
And all of a sudden I was under that black water,
atom beneath colossal depths of dark.
The storm swept up upon our heels
we barely made it through the Cascades.
Cars were beached on every side but we,
young and omnipotent, lurched and veered
on upwards through the driving sleet,
drove straight out of winter into spring,
saw snow melt and a man walk by in his shirt sleeves
in the pacific air of that grey coast.
We steeped in colors at the market-place,
a carnival of fish and fruit we hadn’t seen for months.
I bought a bag of clementines but found
you can’t take clementines back home.
I ate them all, there in the airport, every little sun.
First published in Poem, November 2004, Number 92