[Excerpted from a novel in progress:]
Somewhere in Georgia, a committee decides to tidy up its charts. Gone are the towns of Roosterville and Hemp; bid farewell to Cloudland, Five Points, and Hickory Flat. A son is heading home after thirty years, a daughter looks for the family she never knew; but these homes are fiction, now. Storybook villages called Box Springs and Aonia, empty fields once named Damascus, named Lost Mountain. Somewhere in time, Hadley is telling Hemingway that he’s made a mistake. Asks him if one cock and bull story is as good as another. Blink and you miss Zetella, you miss Poetry Tulip. Scholars start warring over the Cardenio rumor. One giant becomes a windmill again. There was no room on the map for Po Biddy Crossroads. I’m somewhere in Columbus, looking for you, when we’re in two different Macy’s in the same mall. All these displays look the same and my phone’s bleeding minutes all down my fingers as your voice gets farther and farther away.
Here I am sitting in a dying Ford pickup with you, listening to tapes from before I was born. Listening to Bobby Thomson’s bat connect, tinny through the busted-ass speakers. Sounding more like a dropped pencil. Bandage around my temples, watching you take pictures as I drive. The inside of an office under construction, tiers like a temple; the girder skeletons of an elevated rail station, the inevitable pier system when the waters flush these streets away into nothing.
Mornings in Chicago are thick with fog, like a wet towel down the throat, and we’re looking for sunlight in window reflections and gleaming on the ever-exposed scaffolding. Behind us is Boston, off-road city where students climb through tunnels and large fathers knock down buildings like they can’t bear others having toys. Ahead of us is Los Angeles, disintegrating before we can reach it. All our colors are smearing together, graywash speedlines as the truck struggles into second gear and your camera dances from your wrist like a too-full medicine bag.
From your other wrist still clinks! the broken handcuff loop. Me still wishing I was on the other end of the splintered chain. The frost is giving way outside, and the snap of the air plucks at the cords of each guitar lying in our truck bed as we roll on from the red light chapels and holy-blessed wankrooms of Gainesville to the twitchy-moving pens and typewriter racket of Portland.
We left the city then, so soon after I had arrived. We broke free of the city's tangle and emerged amongst the sprawl, miles and miles of big box stores and car dealerships into infinity. Where everything was drive-through and thousands of new cars stood like soldiers at attention. And then there was row after row of self-storage units, stock’n’go carrying cases by Kenner and Hasbro and Mattel. Somewhere Eastward of Eden, my past was locked away inside an identical pod; where the metal starship walls breathed air conditioning fog. My antique British bicycle, your found art installations, the longboxes of comics and milk crates of VHS tapes. Our impermanent record.
Noise walls locked the highway into a straight Hot Wheels track, and we rolled on. The gray panels blurred, the road was a tight rope, a superstring in a dark cosmos, and then it was giving way again, broken fencework falling back before pool and patio neighborhoods, sitcom suburb snout houses with a chicken in every pot. And on past Starter Castles and McMansions, on to where the trees weren’t all fenced by eight by nine curbwork. Out past pork chop lots with electric pylons and cell towers reaching from the ground like fingers.
We’re always in by curfew, looking out at factories looming over cornfields and tract housing; making love quietly, anxiously, then rolling over to watch the sunsets we’ve recorded onto our iPods. Afraid to meet each other’s eyes, confident that nothing exists past these roads, these identical motels and their bolted furniture. Waiting to wake up, always waiting.
Sing a song to Baudrillard, whose maps were the world. Raise a glass to Kafka, or at least to Magritte. There are people writing love letters to Roy Orbison, where they wrap him in clingfilm. A grifter steals Sex.com and flees to Mexico. Japan builds the robot armor it saw run amok in its youth. Disney has a town, Muppets have AIDS and kids are reading “Mary Worth.”
It’s late at night and my arms are outstretched; the tide is coming in and it sounds like your screaming voice.
We remember these days now and forever as the best of them. The pain is romantic, the poverty is ennobling, and the loneliness is spirituality. Everyone is clever and good-looking, every moment is meaningful; we are myths and legends in our own time. We’re entitled to the world and indebted to no one. Our veins pump music and we ever breathe fire. We’re the coming body politic, with all the wisdom our buttons can share.
We are sorcerers and you can never contain us.
We are dying already.