// archives

Archive for September, 2015

The Old Right of Way

This poem originally ran in the May/June 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

This poem originally ran in the May/June 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

The sense that I might die
before I can explain,
to myself even, why
my time-enveloped brain
has seemed, at times, in friendship with the dead—

as though a living hand
had pushed aside the folds
of history, like sand,
to offer me a hold
on what it is to press always ahead—

has stopped me, dizzy, in
my tracks, and made me sit
here in this path that’s been
a walking trail since it
stopped bearing trains so many years ago—

so many years that now
the trees arch clear across,
and hide from walkers how
the way they’ve yet to pass
still runs as straight as rails used to, and so

refresh with each fresh step
the view that constantly
stirs hope in greater depth
that some long mystery
will soon come clearly into perfect sight,

until the path arrives
at that old bridge that binds
two banks with wood, and strives
to make the creek that winds
one with the way that knows no left or right;

it was while sitting there,
where once was never peace,
but only speeding care
and commerce with the east,
where now we go for solitude and rest,

that last I thought I knew
a presence from time past,
coming to greet me through
a measured line whose cast
risked unknown deeps to catch my interest.

But what is there to show
for such experience?
Now that I’ve turned to go
back home, the difference
between sensing and understanding lies

ahead, along the same
Rock Island Railroad bed
that was the way I came
to find the bridge, now hid
again behind and not before my eyes.

Yet not for sitting still
and wishing I could be
on both ends of the trail
will time defer to me.
Let me be up and going where I go;

If what was there to find
is worth finding again,
it’s worth leaving behind
in memory’s wild fen,
where wisdom, hope, desire, and patience grow.

Share Button

James: a Fantasia

This story originally ran in the May/June 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

This story originally ran in the May/June 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

James woke up gradually, feeling the world come slowly into focus; which it did, except for the orange blur sitting in the window at the foot of his bed. He lifted his head and looked at it. Orange blur—blink—orange cat.

It sat in the flowerbox with placid disregard for his petunias (like some savage Titan flattening trees with its ponderous bulk, oblivious) and stared him in the face with a green intensity. James sat up and scratched his head. The long empty feeling of a Saturday morning began to wash over him and suck at his stomach. Traffic sounds drifted in the window.

He had no classes to teach today, which meant that he had nowhere to go; the day was blank as a desert horizon. Having brushed his teeth (top, front, back) and dressed in a yellow buttondown shirt and grey pants, he backed carefully out of his parking spot and began to drive to the coffee shop.

Red light. A flood of people streamed in front of the car, crossing. So many. James thought that they were like islands, or towers: each one tall, proud, unapproachable, untouched by the waves that lapped around their feet. Mostly the people stared straight ahead, but sometimes those on the edge of the stream looked in his direction. When their eyes swept across him he experienced an almost physical sensation like a cutting wind. A stocky black man carrying a potted daisy stared him in the face, dark and vatic. A youth, dreadlocked, with metal studs glinting from various locations in his face, shuffled by, pants flapping like sails, giving James a sidelong glance; James thought he heard him growl, and fancied dark forms swooping around his head. He shivered. A young woman dressed like a gypsy fluttered and glinted by, a smile on her sandy freckled face; James thought she winked. He felt a warm skittering in his head and adjusted his collar.

He pulled into his customary parking space behind the coffee shop and got out. The sidewalk between him and the door was nearly empty. That’s lucky. He concentrated: left, right, left on this square; right, left, right on the next. Sometimes he timed it wrong and had to shorten the third step. Once he nearly ran into a middleaged businesswoman: she stopped short, drew herself up haughtily, raised her eyebrows; James, startled out of concentration, felt scrambled and said “Oh,” and looked back down at the sidewalk, intent once again.

He reached the door and pulled it open; the bells jingled. He ordered his coffee: café-latte-grande-please. The counterboy looked up, snide and sardonic, then glided away to fill the order, haystack hair sticking out in all directions.

James avoided the counterboy’s glare (he was a dark and sultry island, James thought; with piles of compost, and barbed wire) and paid with exact change, for which he had picked through his change cup that morning in preparation, to avoid unnecessary complication. Having acquired his coffee he sat blankly at one of the sleek tables, hand curled around the Styrofoam cup with a slight unconscious tension. His loose gaze hovered somewhere in front of the picture window. His thoughts were occupied with an accustomed set of worries, but today there was something else taking shape behind their swarming: something pointed and waxy and orange.

He glanced nervously around the shop, thinking momentarily of the staring cat—had it followed him?—but there was nothing in particular to be seen. The shop was cool and dark: sleek, granitecolored countertop and tables; chrome pipes glinting from behind the counter. The only other person was the counterboy, who bobbed and glided back and forth in the trendy black uniform to which he managed to impart his personal grunginess.

James saw that there was no cause for alarm; his gaze became blank once more, his head pointed once again in the direction of the window. He became aware of the tightness of his grip, and relaxed it a bit. There. He settled back into his reverie.

“Hey,” said a voice. A wave of acid washed through his veins. It could be nobody but the counterboy. Me? He turned his head slowly, hoping that by his slowness he could somehow retard the sudden electric quickening in the atmosphere; but without even waiting for him to turn completely around, the counterboy said, “I’m goin’ in back to take a leak. Anyone comes in, you can tell ‘em that.”

No. Waitstop. The coffee, turning into acid, sloshed around in his stomach. James felt as if he were watching a gruesome horror movie for the second time, powerless to change anything. The boy had already disappeared, leaving James with nothing to do but stare at the softly swinging door through which he had gone. But I can’t be expected. Any one of those islandtowers.

Scenarios began to swirl and congeal in his head. A man would enter the coffee shop and stand at the counter; he pictured the black man with the daisy. He would grow more and more impatient but James would say nothing. Finally he would ask James where the boy was. James would tell him…the man would be angry, insane: You dare to tell me that this boy has gone? And to take a leak, forsooth? He would begin to throttle him…

No. Ridiculous. A woman would enter; a young woman. Yes; the gypsy girl. James would stand with confidence and declare where the boy had gone, no, he would wittily imply where the boy had gone, so as to spare this young woman’s gentle ears. An expression of awe at his imposing presence would enter her eyes; she was no island tower but a glittering sandcastle, and he a wave, feared but welcomed (And in a wink dissolve her castled pride); they would leave arm in arm…

Good lord. James gave his head a small shake and took a gulp of his coffee, which was getting cold. He began to gather himself up to go, but was startled by the jingle of the bell over the door. Two pretty young women walked in, tall, summery, vacuous, chattering gaily. Unapproachable islands; ivory towers. The odds were against him. He had already half gotten up; there was therefore no question of sitting down, for this would only attract their attention. Could he simply leave? No indeed. He came here often, and did not want to risk the wrath of the coffee boy; and besides, the women were standing in the doorway still. He would have had to make his way past them. Not fair.

He got up, somewhat unsteadily, and went towards the women without any clear plan in mind. He approached slowly, to give them time to see him and perhaps make way for him of their own will. No such luck. They stayed where they were until he was only a couple of feet away. He stopped, took a breath, and said (What the hell, he thought), “He’s gone to the, uh. In the back. He’ll be back.”

Would they shriek? Laugh? Slap him across the face? None of the above. They turned around; their expressions suggested that he was an infant who had just belched endearingly. “What?” “What did you say?” they said, voices lilting upwards in giggling disbelief.

Disaster. “Nothing,” he said. “Please.” The world was crumbling. Shit. He lurched forward, inbetween the two girls, out of the shop’s door. Without looking back he heard the counterboy return and say, “Ladies.” The girls giggled.

James sat, shaking, in his car. Shouldn’t have said anything at all anything. Should have left already. Ridiculous that sonofabitch coffee bastard. Ladies. Calm down I don’t want to calm down. He thought again, unexpectedly, of the cat’s stare, and in his memory the stare took on an accusatory and mocking tinge. The desertlike Saturday stretched out before him once again, with a bleak howling emptiness. How long will I sit here. How long anything. Rest of my life. NO.

James became suddenly calm. His hands, which had been gripping the steering wheel spasmodically, relaxed and no longer shook. An idea struck him. He opened the car door: a breeze blew coolly in his face. He started back for the coffee shop.

While approaching the door he looked inside and saw the two young ladies sitting at a booth; he saw the abominable coffeeboy leaning on the counter, ogling them narroweyed, discreet; he saw, too, a couple of middleaged yuppies at another table. They were not privy to the situation, and thus could present a problem. But no matter. No stopping now.

James flung the door open. The bells jangled, and it seemed to him that they called the place to attention: every eye was on him. He was Hamlet—To be or not to be. No, better, Hamlet was dead; he was Horatio. Goodnight sweet prince. The air was still.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I have come to explain.” What the hell am I doing. “You, illmannered dirtbag,” he addressed the coffeeboy, “left your post to take a leak in the back, as you so crudely put it; enlisting me, against my will, in your service.” The boy fully opened his usually halfshut eyes and his jaw sagged a bit. James gained confidence. “You, O most insufferable bimbos,” he addressed the young ladies (who squeaked in rage, thereby greatly pleasing him), “were the instruments of my humiliation, with your monkeying patronization.” This made no literal sense and he knew it, but the words were flowing and he could no longer stop them. “And you,” he addressed the yuppies, “were not there. But I assure you” (he felt the sweat burst out on his brow) “it was a disaster. Most unjust and catastrophic! A disaster.”

He faltered, having nothing more to say, and cast a cold eye over his stunned audience. Suddenly he crowed with laughter—Victory!—and skipped, exultant, through the door and into the cool breeze outside.

Share Button

Unfinished

This story first ran in the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This story first ran in the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

On the first day of this year, I completed a journey begun three years ago, a journey whose way had scorned the order of life and come near to death. Of course, given such an introduction, the real story of that journey cannot fail to disappoint; but disappointment, too, had its part in the venture; this is a story of the paltriness of our most daring endeavors, as well as of the glory of minor deeds. In the end, the thing may seem hardly to have been worth the doing, or the tale worth the telling. Yet, as some receding gleam of possibility made me continue, so I am moved to give my little account.

To begin near the end, then, with the idea of apprising you right from the beginning of the unromantic limitations of time and space, thus creating a more dramatic effect when they are incredibly disrupted by the mandate of the world-historical moment, I was at a small New Year’s Eve party on Long Island, it was one AM, and everyone was ready to go to sleep. The hosts and half the guests were already in bed, and I—I was sitting downstairs in the lounge chair, chattering away in protest at the too early closure of the party, grimly envious of Samuel, whom the Lord was with, keeping his words from being without effect. My words were having no effect on Sebastian and Finbar, who were steadily, if a little lethargically, making up the couches for the night.

“It’s a shame,” Sebastian said, apropos of none of my prating, “that we have to get up so early tomorrow.” He was alluding to the necessity of making it to a ten o’clock Mass the next day. The natural response would have been to mock Seb’s effeminate need for beauty rest, and in other circumstances, I might have indulged, but it was not possible on this occasion, acting, as I was, under an unseen influence: that is, not those four glasses of spumante, but a little book.

I had been reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and my thought was insatiably fixed upon the prospects of stirring, by the power of speech, some spark—any spark—in another, of igniting another with his own secret intentions. In The Picture, Lord Henry Wotton, the body of all the flippant cynicism for which alone Oscar Wilde is now remembered, deliberately leads Dorian to recognize himself as the living icon of “a new Hedonism,” moving him to begin his unpredictable life of adventure and sin.

I had not arrived at the gruesome consequences of Dorian’s bad behavior, or perhaps the book would not have had such an effect on me. I have a stronger history of being led astray by half-finished stories than I do of learning from whole ones. When I was seven years old, I began to read a picture book called The Snoop, in which a mouse wearing a dress makes herself busy about other people’s affairs, reading their unopened mail, among other transgressions. No doubt in the end she gets hers, but I never got that far.

I may consider myself fortunate that there were no dresses in my size at home, but of unopened mail there was a considerable supply, renewed every morning, not only in the house but also in the boxes placed in front of every house on the street. I methodically collected it, and stored it behind a large piece of plywood leaning against the fence in our backyard.

I didn’t really see the interest of most of the mail, but I liked having it, and I do remember a thrill of wicked glee at the knowledge that, despite her excellent performance, Debbie Jackson would now never receive her “Dolphin” level swimming certificate. (I felt no remorse at this, because Debbie was clearly a girl.) The process of methodically returning the mail, on the other hand, of facing the master of each household alone as my watchful father stood waiting at the curb, was distinctly unpleasant, probably much more so than the unread fate of the original Snoop.

You might attribute my pliable observance of the Snoop’s lifestyle to my age at the time, seven being numerologically less stable than eight, which, as Plutarch observes in his account of Theseus, “is the first cube of an even number, and also the double of the first square. It is therefore an especially appropriate symbol for the immovable and abiding power of Poseidon, whom we call the stay and upholder of the earth.” Perhaps that very nearness to the unyielding determined the susceptibility of my will in that year. Indeed, my age at the present is twenty-three, the seventh prime after one, and one short of the third multiple of eight, being the triple of the first cube, and therefore all the more stable than the double of the first square.

Whatever the reason, on New Year’s of this year I was quite under the spell of Lord Henry Wotton’s yet unpunished misbehavior, and anxious to have an effect. That is why I said to Sebastian, “There is an alternative.”

Now I had his attention, and I was not going to waste it. “Have I told you,” I went on, “about the time I almost went to Manhattan?” I hadn’t, but neither Sebastian nor Finbar were ignorant of it. Nevertheless, they now consented to hear it recounted. So it has been decided, I thought, so I shall give the telling.

In those days, we were known as the Moxie Clan. By “we” I mean Kevin Ryan, and by “Kevin Ryan,” I mean my first roommate and all those more or less under the sway of his comically venturesome irresponsibility. Kevin, the only one I know more fascinated by the first chapters of books than I am, introduced me to what was to be my favorite book for some time. Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller consists of a series of first chapters alternating with a second-person narrative about the reader’s heroic efforts to come to a conclusion, and I read it instead of finishing the Iliad.

As for “Moxie,” that is another story. It is one of the few slang words in the American language whose development is quite easily traced, and has its origin in Maine in 1876, when Augustin Thompson began marketing his “Moxie Nerve Food,” borrowing the name from an Algonquian word meaning, “dark water.” The only difficulty in determining how “moxie” came to mean pluck, courage, and energy would be in deciding whether to attribute it to the tonic’s purported medicinal effects or to the audacity of its advertising campaign. After the FDA made the company tone down its outrageous claims, the advertising genius Frank Archer reinvented Moxie as a soft drink, “the distinctive beverage for those of discerning taste,” while simultaneously marketing it as a spectacular and exciting phenomenon with such legendary gimmicks as the “horse-mobile.” That was a golden age, when persuasion was simply a matter of stating one’s case adventurously. But before I get so carried away that I tell you how Moxie’s reign as the number one soft drink in America came to an ignominious end, let me get back to what this has to do with a little coterie at Thomas More College.

I forget why we started drinking Moxie. It wasn’t because we were balding or impotent. It may have been out of a need for some clear banner to distinguish ourselves from the normals, but I don’t remember there being any of those around. Besides, we weren’t exclusive—at least, I wasn’t; I wanted everyone to acquire the bizarre taste to enter our plucky, courageous little world. Nevertheless, the large contingent of detractors (those who contended that Moxie tasted like motor oil or cough syrup) defined itself clearly against us, and the more enthusiastic elite of aficionados remained distinct from the dabblers and sympathizers.

That is why we were called the Moxie Clan. Yet it was a fitting name, even apart from our predilection for the old dark water. It was our habit to undertake any scheme that occurred to us that might produce unexpected results, especially if our fearless leader thought it might be funny.

One Friday night, after a lecture on the passing of Aeneas from Troy to Rome, our own epic journey was beginning to unfold. In the hall outside my room, where I sat trying to begin a paper comparing Nicias (the Frank Archer of his time) and Alcibiades (who probably had Archer beat: he roused the Athenians to the very stupid expedition against Sicily, which in his mind was just a little stepping stone to Africa—I mean, all of it), I could hear Kevin and a neophyte of the clan, known among us as Hoffbrincker, forming a plan. It was their idea to leave at midnight and arrive in Times Square early enough to spend a few hours of night and a few of morning there before they returned, in the meantime enjoying a full flat of Moxie.

It was certainly more feasible than conquering Africa, but I didn’t see the point of it, and when they asked me to come I told them so. When they argued that even the bums in Times Square are inherently more interesting than anyone anywhere else in the world, I was not sold. Here’s how they got me: they told me that they would not be able to go if I did not join them. Wow. It wasn’t that I would have felt sorry if I had ruined their plan; it was that I had the power to ruin their plan if I chose to; it was the fact that neither the enthusiasm of Kevin Ryan nor four six-packs of the distinctive beverage were enough to move them to action, but I was.

We left at midnight. Our journey had begun. But perhaps in our ardor we had forgotten that every epic begins, not with a single direct thrust at its final goal, but with a radical displacement: ships get wrecked, Troy gets burned, the hero finds himself lost.

Hoffie was at the wheel and going at least eighty, which was fine until that semi-truck going sixty swerved into our lane in Connecticut. Now in that situation, there are two things you could do: you could brake, or you could swerve out of your lane into the lane that the semi just swerved out of, figuring that whatever frightened that wimpy little sixty-miles-per-hour semi will not be a match for your eighty-miles-per-hour Volkswagen. Hoffie, always on the watch for a brave chance, went without hesitation for the latter.

Seconds later we slammed directly into the empty car lying inert across the middle lane.

It was quiet. Smoke poured out of the dashboard. “What do we do?” Kevin said. “I guess we better get out,” Hoffie said. Too dazed to find my glasses, I stepped out of the car and blindly crossed two lanes of interstate traffic to the shoulder. Fifteen minutes later I noticed that I was holding a crushed, empty and blurry can of Moxie in my right hand. Then, somewhere in the night, a tire exploded.

So that was how our travels really began. None of us were hurt, but we all decided to get strapped down on boards by the EMS units and taken to the blurry hospital, where we stayed the night, getting x-rayed and sleeping on the waiting room floor. In the morning, Hoffie’s aunt arrived to bring us over to her blurry home in Rhode Island, where she served us the finest blurry bacon and eggs I have had in my life. In the afternoon, we stopped by some place somewhere to take some things out of the totaled car, and then got back to New Hampshire in time for me to make it to the Boston Symphony. But Manhattan was nowhere on the itinerary. The path was winding that would take me there in time, but I never imagined I was still on it until I found myself telling this story to Sebastian and Finbar in Long Island on New Year’s Day, three years later.

“So you see,” I concluded, “we could leave now, get there by three or four, and make it to an early Mass without having to worry about waking up at all.” I said it for a lark, but I knew I had Sebastian hooked when he said, “Amos does not speak to no purpose,” and started looking for his glasses. I crept upstairs to see who else was up that might be enticed, and found Natalie writing at the top of the stairs. We came back down, and Finbar, too, was dressed and ready.

Now, you don’t really want to hear about the songs we sang in the car, the traffic on the way when the expressway was closed, the diner where we had coffee and rice pudding or the people we met there, our call to Kevin Ryan to inform him of the achievement, the many blocks we walked in search of St. Patrick’s, or the garish hypnotism Rockefeller Center may exercise on the sleep-deprived. I know I didn’t want to hear about it afterwards. But when we did get back to Long Island, and I lay down to sleep at last, my darkening hearing met not the still murmur of a household waking, but the definite, unflagging line of Finbar talking to the hosts and guests who had not come, telling them the whole damned thing.

Share Button

Iowa Skies

This poem first ran in the May/June 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time

This poem first ran in the May/June 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time

Iowa skies at night—full of white stars
(hot, they tell me, but looking cool)—
gnarled oak, jackpine and cedar
struggling—hanging on for life—
in and on the limestone bluffs that line
the Shell Rock River,
and my breath cloud at 5:00 AM
like Baez at Woodstock
have in common: Being Beautiful
and reminding Me of You.

Share Button

A Refrain Recalled

This poem first ran in the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This poem first ran in the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.


for A. A. C.

“In the brave days of old,”
I said at each stanza’s end.
I read from a book, in the cold,
at a meeting of friends.

I remember one thing clearly
from all that I read in the cold:
you murmured the last line with me,
In the brave days of old.

 

 

 

Share Button

Misinformation Dissemination 6: Utrum Canada veraciter sit

This essay first ran in the Feb/Mar 2007 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This essay first ran in the Feb/Mar 2007 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

by Michael Bolin

Objection One: It seems that Canada exists. For we see in the world many people that we call Canadians, who seem to be so denominated from their country of origin. Now this would not be so, if that country did not exist; hence the conclusion follows.

Objection Two: Again, even among Americans, there are many who are said to have gone to Canada. Now motion implies a terminus ad quem. Therefore, etc.

Objection Three: Again, many people celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving. But thanks is properly given in return for something received, which would not be the case if Canada did not exist. Hence it does exist.

On the contrary, stands the authority of Socrates, who nowhere in his treatment of the tyrannical regime mentions Canada.

I Answer That the non-existence of Canada can be proved in five ways. The first and more manifest way is from the authority of Sacred Scripture. For it is written, All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness (Isaiah 40:17). Now Canada is said to be a nation; therefore it is less than nothing and emptiness.

The second way is by a kind of ontological argument. For it is manifest to all that the definition of Canada is that country than which no lesser can be thought. Now it is worse for a thing to exist in the mind only than in the mind and reality also. But if Canada were to exist in reality, one could conceive of a lesser country, namely one that exists in the mind only. But this is contrary to the definition given, by which we know that Canada is that country than which no lesser can be thought. It follows that Canada can in no way exist in reality.

The third way is from the intention of nature. It is evident to experience that nature acts for an end, which we also know from the Philosopher in Physics, II. But if Canada were to exist, nature would have produced something in vain, and to no end. Hence Canada does not exist.

The fourth way is from the convertibility of being and goodness. Since being and goodness are the same in things and differ only in account, it follows that any thing that exists, insofar as it exists, is better than any thing that does not exist. But the land of Oz, which does not exist, is better than Canada; and from this it follows that even less does Canada exist. If, however, someone denies that the land of Oz is better than Canada, we must cease to argue with him, for as the Philosopher says in Metaphysics, those who deny first principles need not argument, but punishment.

The fifth way is from the nature of the first principles of things. For actuality is to potency as being is to non-being. But according to the universally accepted authority of http://www.bacad.com/about_canada.htm, Canada is a rich country with great potential. Therefore also is it great in non-being.

Reply to Objection One: To the first, then, it must be said that not all peoples are denominated from their country of origin. For example, many people have been called “Communists,” but this naming in no wise implies the existence of a country called “Commune.” And this is how it is with those called “Canadians.”

Reply to Objection Two: To the second, according to the Philosopher, motion is said in six ways. Thus, it is not necessary to assume that the act of “going to Canada” is said with respect to local motion; rather, it implies the motion of alteration, as in the common phrase, “going to pot.”

Reply to Objection Three: To the third it must be said that the “Canadian Thanksgiving” ought to be understood in some mystical sense. This is evident from the fact that, even if Canada were to exist, it would have nothing to be thankful for. And from this the truth of the matter is evident.


 

Read more great Grackle classics!

Original bio from the Feb/Mar 2007 edition:

Michael Bolin once lived in the frigid midwest and now lives in the scorching southwest. He is rumored to be intensely interested in philosophy, though both the source and credibility of this rumor are unknown. He had long noted that all of his friends despised him, and so was not surprised when it recently turned out that they were actually someone else’s friends.

Share Button

Flavor

This poem first ran in the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This poem first ran in the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

I once held a lemon drop
in my mouth
for forty-eight minutes,
charily resisting the temptation
to shatter it and release
the yellow splash of taste;

today we nestled
on your porch couch,
sunframed,
prolonging the autumn afternoon,
allowing it to retreat
drop by drop.

Share Button

Freeway Fantasia

This article originally ran in the Dec/Jan 2006/07 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

This article originally ran in the Dec/Jan 2006/07 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

We’re re-releasing two classic Grackle pieces every day through Sep. 26, in celebration of our 10th anniversary. The pieces that get the most attention will be included in a free “Best of the Grackle” audio collection, so please share your favorites. See this post for more details.

by Amos J. Hunt

Few of us are prepared to accept the statement that Irving’s Airport Freeway is punctuated by intersections. For, considering that the freeway, by its very nature, facilitates the express flow of traffic along a single line precisely by eliminating the interference of cross-traffic, it must be absurd to suggest that such interference exists.

Indeed, the freeway, being designed for purely utilitarian purposes, will be thought free even of those intangible intrusions of feeling which Longinus called “transport.”

However, such a thought could only survive on the most coldly rational matrix, and must melt to nothingness in the warmth of a minute’s attention. For after all, as the freeway is not a freeway at all, but only a vast slab, if no actual drivers are freed by it, their freedom belongs to the nature of the freeway as such; that is to say, it cannot be considered as a freeway at all except in view of the drivers to whom it makes itself available. Just what it frees them for is by no means as obvious as the intentions which laid it down in the first place, namely, the promotion of speed, and consequently of productivity. Rather, it includes the whole view of each individual following its course, insofar as that view is facilitated by the freeway itself.

Then we cannot ignore the way that a hundred birds suddenly scattered just as I looked at them the other day, as though breaking apart at my touch; nor the billowing of flag after flag, spreading and folding in obedience to the arrivals and departures of the wind. These manifestations are of course possible anywhere, but they are especially probable on that open road that makes its way through urban terrain, where the driver may regard the city around not as a possible incursion into his path (that is, as possible cross-traffic), but as a view around that presents itself as the complex boundaries of the driver’s course.

That these events themselves constitute intersections remains to be said. With a view to that saying, a brief look to the side will be better than a heedless and dogged advance in one direction. Consider the anecdote related by Aristotle of two tourists visiting the city of Athens: having seen the sights, they felt it would be unfortunate to leave the city without first observing a real philosopher at work, so they came to the door of Heraclitus. When he invited them in, and they found him warming his hands by the fire, they turned away, disappointed to find the great philosopher in such a humble position, rather than contemplating the heavens. But he called after them, “Come in; even here, the gods make themselves manifest.”

The coincidence of my eye turning to a flock of birds just at the moment of their breaking free of a telephone wire is a coinciding of two ordinary events in such a way as to make contact with the extraordinary. Or more clearly, the crossing of a natural force with a contrived artifact that occurs in every flag and banner along the side of the freeway is a display of the motion of the natural divinity as it moves and enlivens the devices of men—not that wind itself is a divinity, but that its articulation in the movement of a flag (however commercial in intention), expresses, exudes the divinities in a language that the traveling eye is uniquely prepared to understand.

But most marvelous of all is the intersection of topography and electric light. For it is here, as the road beneath rises and falls and the geometry of light shifts back and forth across a basic axis, that nature’s slowest force—namely, the tectonic movements that shape our landscapes—meets and controls man’s swiftest. It is this spectacle, above all others, that the driver on the freeway is most uniquely free to observe, and the one most germane and instructive especially to him: it reminds him, if he is paying attention, that, for all his haste, the driver cannot outpace the ancient crawl of stone, the heavens’ monumental speed.

Share Button

Sign up for our mailing list

When's the next issue coming? Is there a new Rag post up this week? Get announcements and exclusive content delivered to your inbox every week.


Imagine Dallas

The Grackle is a production of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Imagine Dallas Literary Arts, Inc.