On Happy Jack Road
the great wind turbines, like apocalyptic herons,
big-beaked birds that eat everything,
even the sky, sweep across the highway.
They stand so close to the shoulder
the shadows of their hungry legs
cut our path to pieces:
swooosh! in front, the road ahead sectioned;
swooop! behind, at the bumper, the past receding,
portioned out to orphan-memories.
But we know better, don’t we?
It’s all oil and gas in Wyoming,
roughnecks and roustabouts, in a state where
most of a town’s treasure is in pumpjacks.
I sit behind a pickup heading out Wind River way,
or to Rawlins, and he has a sticker on the crew cab
that says, Paid for by Oil & Gas.
The wind holds its tongue until the early morning,
when it moans across sagebrush flats,
three days straight, gusting to fifty.
It has tried to tell us, shoring snow,
snorting and kicking dirt like an unbroke pony:
sometimes you can’t tell the difference
between what you are
and what you think you are.
I should know, gripping the wheel of my own truck
on Happy Jack Road,
eight years a homeowner, black coffee on the terrace,
watching the sun in its tight circle.
Yes, you know better, says the Laramie wind.
This was always you,
the past peeling off behind like ropeburn skin,
the blacktop slipping under these spinning tires
Headphones recommended. Open text version in a new tab.
Yesterday evening I just know
I was fighting off something:
remember? at King Soopers,
bumping into Billie from the hill,
who’d moved away —
and the small animal clinic
where we had to take the cat,
his jaw swollen, the possibility of an abscess
and the threat of lockdown looming.
The man at the counter, way too close,
sniffling and hawking,
or mid-morning at the computer store
after my laptop had crashed,
each black letter of the alphabet,
once it had been fixed
and gone god-knows-where,
a poison pill, the whole keyboard
a box-cabinet of contagion.
Take your pick.
It could have been anywhere.
I only know I was fighting off something,
throat hot, tongue dry, my head
a late summer nest of soiled feathers,
twigs, the egg sacs of incubating spiders,
the birds gone, the fluid morning
giving way to inflammation,
the curtains and the dark.
I braved the digital thermometer in the end,
one of those things you stick in your ear,
the result announced freakishly
in a child’s voice:
“Your temperature is 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit,”
she said, as though speech was still
a little strange: she lived in a world
of ones and zeroes that never met.
Still, I’m sure there was something,
though I feel better now. Thank you.
All that may be left to fear
is my uncharitable skin,
this chamber, the chrysalis of our separateness.
The place where sex and philosophy
and streetfights all begin.
You over there. Me here.
Not enough to make a difference, perhaps —
and if it did, what would the difference be?
I am the near-beer of the black community,
which is to say, barely there.
An online book peddler hasn’t heard the news.
They send offers for heirloom editions
titled Your African-American Heritage.
It’s a proud history, they tell the black me
though, according to family rumors
my African-American heritage is the possibility
a paternal great-great-great grandfather
once owned slaves in Guadeloupe:
he is far enough gone to distance from,
close enough to make it real.
In some seller’s database, then, in this wide
uncomfortable place where Plymouth Rock
landed on me, I’ve been co-opted.
When we hung around
the Oakland Dyno-Burger
they didn’t seem to care
I was the only white guy for a mile
in every direction / it was all
warm smiles, bro hugs, fist bumps
like I was a mascot, a leucistic bird
from the hood, wrong-wayed, at sea.
As if it didn’t make a difference
and if it did, what would the difference be?
More than we’d think, or care to think
between our blood and our experience:
we bleed red, yes, but I bleed less.
More than I want, perhaps, but less.
when it was launched in 1977,
carried on board a golden record
with the music of Mozart and Chuck Berry
and greetings to alien life
in fifty-five languages:
“Hello from the children of planet Earth,”
it said in English.
“May the honors of the morning
be upon your heads,”
it said in Turkish.
It’s difficult to beat,
“How are you all? Have you eaten yet?”
but my favorite is in Swedish:
“Greetings from a computer programmer
in the little university town of Ithaca,”
No one knows exactly why cats purr.
We assume they are happy,
comfortable, comforted, safe,
but vets report they also purr
at the moment of death,
after the needle is slipped under the skin
into the vein of the leg.
And studies show they purr
at a frequency that heals bone,
that a healthy cat will lie down
next to a sick one
and begin purring for it.
But they don’t purr when they are born,
and they’re born blind and deaf,
ears down, like lumps of damp dough,
spinning through space
in their own quiet world,
huddled up against that soft universe
of fur and flesh,
huddled against the mother
they can only feel
in their blindness,
in the deep mute well of the night,
eyes wrapped in skin and loss,
until three weeks or so along:
The root and meaning of all speech,
their own golden record: