"But first, baby, as you climb and count the stairs (and they total the same), did you, sometime or somewhere, have a different idea?
Is this, baby, what you were born to feel, and do, and be?"

-Kenneth Fearing

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


In 1967, I hadn’t happened yet. He drove the Wisconsin highway
as it was. It didn’t have as many branches;
traffic then, a fraction of now. Although, underneath it maps
the same. Driving through, he passed so many exits
without thought, until the gas gauge, hunger, or a sign
nudged him, get there sooner. He wondered if it’s worse to be tired

or late. Yet, each number matters to someone, so much that they get tired
of noticing. Driving home the same way every day, it’s not the highway
anymore but a stretch of routine. Low on fuel, I look for a sign
and there it is, a simplified pump, an arrow where the road branches.
If I lived here I’d know where to go. I don’t. I rely on marked exits
and routes I’ve already planned. I plot the future with maps,

which are less paper now than a voice in my ear. I know that the map
is not the road, but accept a representation. I wonder where he got tired,
driving to a conference hall, a sales meeting, a waste of time, the exits
more appealing than the speaker. He wished to be back on the highway
but not to be home. They spoke of elevator speeches, a no as a branch
that leads to a yes. Get the yes. Always get the yes. Get them to sign.

They’re all green now, on the side of the highway, the same signs
that were white for him. I compare, thinking that the father is a map
for the son, no matter the shape it’s in, and the son is the branch;
that replaces the tree entirely. I’d ask him how he got so tired
but don’t we all, some days? It’s only a road, this highway,
a name for specific miles, the stretch between entrance and exit

I’ve stared at the photograph so many times, considering his exit.
He pulled onto the shoulder, as if he could interrogate the sign
with a look, and make it change its story. Back then, the highway
was limbo, no cell phone internet. Just you, Hank Williams, a map
on the seat, and whatever thoughts were spinning around like tires
in your head. Until you pick one, every single branch

ahead seems possible. Is that the story, that the branches
collapsed behind you, leaving only the thought of exit?
I’m on the Wisconsin highway, 45 years later, both tired
of and resigned to investigation, as if every gesture was a sign.
But, I hadn’t been thought of yet. You read your own map,
humming the tune to your own lost highway

I drive past another branch, and decide that this sign
is irrelevant. His exit, my entrance, spinning wheels; a map
I drew when I was tired and feeling small against the highway.