Poetry from Sheryl Bize-Boutte

THE 40 PARADOX

 

The hazy summer of the new millennium

Finds the four of us

Inching through the daily scramble of the 405

That finally lands us on Wilshire Boulevard

Mother, Father, Daughter, Nephew

We all look for movie stars at the corner Starbucks

Giddy that two are real enough to stop and chat

After compliments on latest movie

And our travel plans shared

Telling looks and “I have to go” smiles

Stage whisper we had lingered

as long as we could

 

No real relationships are solidified

Warm goodbyes float on the Westwood glitter

And the smoggy rumor of

A Los Angeles sun

We glide to the 10

For a tearful goodbye in Korea Town

He watches, hands in pockets, shoulders slumped

As we onramp in a curve with the 15

Pushing back the struggle of separation

We must embrace the happy of it all

Smooth and all lightness we are until

Truck tires stutter and skip upon meeting the 40 asphalt

Acting like they don’t really want to go

But knowing they must

Then grabbing pavement as if holding on for dear life

Calling out a warning

About destinations unfamiliar

 

At Flagstaff the truck bed tarp unravels

We braid the new fringe together

Like a schoolgirl’s hair

Too far from the shade

We grow faint and angry

At the hot dry Arizona earth

The mountains stand as stationery greys

Through miles of lonely highway

Reluctantly giving in to New Mexico reds

Albuquerque has waited patiently at the Route 66 fork

To lovingly shelter us for the night

 

At sunrise we mount up

Heeding the warnings of others before us

We move cautiously across Texas

With a list of towns where things have not changed

Places where we have been told to go slow

Or not to stop at all

CD player on blast

We sing through it loudly to ease the creeping fear

 

The dungy beige tumbleweeds

Taunt us from Amarillo to Shamrock

We maneuver through an unsettling sea of Texaco’s

When on the horizon

A California Chevron

Rises like a phoenix

And makes us momentarily forget

Where we are

 

The figure riding the heat waves

Is not a mirage

It is dirty coverall gas station man

Arrived at the edge of the road

To deliver the bigot’s creed to travelers like us

No gas no bathrooms no water

No nothing

For you or you or you and especially you

 

Our knowing looks exchanged

Unnecessary words discarded

The boys sneak around back

And hose down gas station man’s truck

In a very natural way

 

Denial again on the dirty linoleum

Of the desolate Oklahoma country store

Soon made just another scratch on the soul

That will heal over

But leave another mark

Salve is the rich green of Oklahoma City

Where gentle hosts provide us a sweet night of rest

When they believe nephew’s story

That he is Jay Z’s little brother

The lie is a blanket tossed aside in the morning

As hundreds of birds in the outsized hydrangea trees

Raucously chirp us awake

 

Convoys of confederate flagged truckers

Vilify the lush beauty of the Arkansas terrain

As they curse and spit us all the way

To where the 40 route narrows

To a sharpened sword

That shears off the tip of Mississippi

Then becomes airborne

And pierces the trucker bubble

In the rearview we watch them fall back airless

And melt into silver lines on the asphalt

 

Unthreatened we cross the mighty river

And exhale into Tennessee

As the signs for Nashville begin to appear

We are happy to have made it this far

And sad that we have arrived

 

This is where she will be for a while

To do this thing

That she is dream driven to do

This university of regal brick and stone

Would whisper to her each day

And remind her how far she was

From California

They would educate her

In the ways she came there for

And in ways they did not consider

 

Later we journey to meet her there

Flying high above the 40

Joyously and triumphantly following the road

From 30,000 feet

Giving it the finger with one hand

Blowing kisses with the other

Her PhD a permanent mile marker

Along the 40 paradox

 

Copyright © 2017 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte