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Road Notes

August 13, 2012

by Wendy Vardaman

(taking our father back to Arkansas, June 2011)

Razorback oak box,
the bristles on the boar’s back
lie flat, its eyes dull.

*

Bring your swim suit. Make
sure your dad’s ashes
are in the van.

*

Mother asks about
the route more than my niece, six,
says, are we there yet?

*

Cracker Barrel. Fried
okra. Dumplings. Rocking chairs,
shirts, flags, sticky stuff.

*

Now when we come back,
if we go up through Marblehead,
we’ll miss all this.

*

Just curious. Which road
are you taking now? My niece
asks, Are we there yet?

*

Mom stabs at the map
over continental
breakfast, shakes with rage.

*

I have a horror
of getting to Arkansas
without him, she says.

I have a horror
of fast planes…masked intruders…
high speed trains…Chinese

hackers…stolen
passwords…Zombie socialists…
high speed trains…

I have a horror
of the house at night, the black
night, the house, the horror.

*

Oreos. Movie.
Chips. Movie. Sprite. Such a good
little traveler.

*

MacDonald’s drive through.
Another movie. Dual
screens. Highway ahead.

*

Walgreen’s. KFC.
Shell. 3.55. Can you
believe what we pay?

*

MacDonald’s. DQ.
World Bird Sanctuary Next
Right. Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart.

*

Springfield. Another
tank, highways bursting with trucks,
the way to Joplin.

*

George Washington Carver
National Monument. Speed
past, GPS warning.

*

We look for collapse.
For smash. For twisted. Whipped. Hot.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

The malls, shredded,
even Wal-Mart pulverized,
trees, houses, signs, sighs:

Did they ever find
that baby? Cars pounded, boat
wrapped around a tree top.

Slumberland saved, the
Mattress store next door? Shorn. Wake-
up America.

*

Arkansas state line:
highway blasted through limestone
layers, golf courses, strip mall.

Bentonville traffic
jam. 5:45. Shift change
at the Wal-Mart mines.

*

Remember that mess
with the Koreans? she asks.
You mean Vietnamese.

*

We lived on Roosevelt
Road, on Victoria Drive.
On empires eroding.

*

Your house, over there?
Well, now there’s black folks living
in that house. Shoot—

*

The borders move North,
East: Thriftway’s an Asian Market,
Safeway, Latino.

*

You got some color
at the pool. It’s nice to have
a little color.

*

Half of Clarksville, torn
to bits, last month’s tornado,
careful with matches.

*

birches bend left straight
dark boy swinging that doesn’t
stay ice-storms do

*

We take care of our
own, says a cousin I never
met who looks like me.

*

They wore Bermuda
shorts, rode bicycles. Your
parents were so cool.

*

At our mom’s oldest
cousin’s, sipping iced tea: wide
porch, wide mountain view.

*

They still say how well
their great-grands treated the slaves,
let them stay post-War.

*

The house of flags takes
everyone back, among them
hangs a KKK.

*

100 degree
walk: me, some students, all the
Latino workers.

*

Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart. Flower
shop. Drug store. Mall. Mall. We load
the hold, then head home.

*

Our oceans & our
ice are dying. So are we:
good bye, good buys.

 

Author’s Note: I collected these fragments on a trip from Wisconsin to Arkansas last summer, using the haiku form to help shape the description and observations, but also to create some of the disjunction that I felt and observed during the trip. The cultural gaps, the racism, visiting a place I hadn’t been for 35 years, the beauty of the natural landscape against the ugliness of development and ideology, the distance between us in spite of larger problems that we all face, were so overwhelming that the fragment was the only way I could find to write. Originally, I considered these notes a prewriting exercise and planned to make them into a different poem, series of poems, or essay, but they insisted on their current form, both disjointed and also unified. In my revising I have rearranged and sometimes eliminated notes, but I haven’t added anything new, and I have left their original, observational character intact.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), co-editor/webmaster of Verse Wisconsin, and co-founder/co-editor of Cowfeather Press. She is one of Madison, Wisconsin’s two Poets Laureate (2012-2015).

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  1. Dick Jones
    August 15, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Disjunction, yes, but it’s the tantalising disjunction of the chronological black-and-white photo album that provides data but stimulates imaginative speculation in equal degree. The staccato voice and flashing images intrigue and beguile. Powerful and atmospheric.

  2. August 20, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Wendy, your ‘Road Notes’ just now just knocked me flat. Great great clipped cadence and a fierce cataloging eye.

  3. August 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Wendy—loved your poem and noticed especially the reference to Marblehead. That’s my town. Were you thinking of coming home the coast route?

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