MILES OF HIGHWAYS AND OPEN ROADS
(after a theme of Ralph Haselmann, Junior)
The carpenter (whose hands have grown
too large for the twenty house town
he was born in) sticks out his thumb
and catches a jet to Los Angeles where
he drowns off the Santa Monica beach trying
to ride a wave to beautiful downtown Burbank.
His sister stays home and marries
the county’s star high school running back
who turns into the town drunk.
He reminds her three times a week how lucky
she was to marry him just before he
batters her senseless on his way to the drunk tank.
At nineteen Eric hit the road 1966 toked up
tuned out “like a rolling stone a complete unknown.”
Thirty years later he’s still crashing on friends’
living room floors playing bottleneck guitar songs by Robert Johnson
Bob Dylan Mississippi John Hurt Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly
has two ex-wives three kids never seen and an exhausted monkey on his back.
The road unspools and the roadside diners
fast food dives gas stations and tourist clip joints
fade beneath moonlight into cemeteries
where dreams stories hopes and lives
are flushed down toilets in dirty restrooms
whose walls are filled with names of the maimed lost and dead.
From the towns and from the farms from the hills
and from the mountains the children of the nation
head for New York Los Angeles Chicago Miami San Francisco
Detroit Houston Phoenix Atlanta. The roll call goes on
and on. Along rural roads and interstate highways
shutters bang on deserted houses and weeds choke fields and ditches.
All the idealism all the hope of 1968 Martin Luther King
Malcolm X Jerry Rubin Bobby Seales Tom Hayden Robert Kennedy
Eugene McCarthy Jimi Hendrix Eldridge Cleaver Allen Ginsberg
dead or on Madison Avenue or just another forgotten
two bit politician. Today’s rage is directed at other drivers.
Blowing in the Wind might as well be a laundry commercial.
When Vivaldi has become incidental music for a car ad
when Beethoven’s Ninth is background to dozens dying hard
when Richie Havens makes his living singing for a beer company
when novelists and poets aspire to MTV techniques
what stories revealed under a lucid moon
will find artists able to render them with feeling and truth?
Previously published in Miles of Highways and Open Roads
(Four-Sep Publications, 1999)
Michael L. Newell is a retired English/Theatre teacher. He has lived in thirteen countries on five continents, and has lived in thirteen of the United States. He has had over nine hundred poems published. He currently lives on the south-central coast of Oregon.