The ghost of the Sandy Hook teacher keens through the speakers of your Chevy Cruze, and the twelve-year old Christina-Taylor Green asks you if Harry Potter would marry a Muggle. Every night, you sleep beneath a quilt of music sewed by martyrs. On the night of Martin Luther King’s death, you bowed your head on the corner of 17th and Broadway while another doomed man hoisted a beacon of peace. Now the names of los desaparecidos are tattooed on your heart. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Ethel Lance. When did you read The Invisible Man? The Beatitudes? The roman à clef of the girls held captive in basement vaults in Cleveland? There is a word for the journey that changes a life. One for the place from where one’s strength is drawn. There is a word for the overwhelming desire to kiss another. A name for a person who finds peace within rain. How many times have you stopped your car in the middle of a road to carry a turtle to its mate on the other side? What if you planted a garden of milkweeds to nurture a thousand caterpillars before their metamorphosis into flight? What if you tended a hive of bees for every day of summer? The only voice you hear speaks in el lenguaje del silencio? History has become the love doll of pale men in gray suits. You carry a grief stone in your chest beside a morsel of rage. If you had to tell the truth, you don’t know which one weighs the most.
from To Jerusalem, and Back,
You’ve spent the morning drawing Venn diagrams and tic-tac-toe grids while overhearing a kid tell her friend a strawberry is not a berry, but a banana is. You’re an apricot chai addict who eavesdrops on children who know too much about fruit. A pencil-wielding dropout from Mardi Gras College who sketches boxes on junk mail. The dumbest congressman still calls you even though he knows he’s dialing an unwelcome number. He claims to be an agent for impotent domains. Says he has dildomatic immunity. You entertain delusions about a sleepover invite from that actress on “Gilligan’s Island,” so you always answer the phone. Today, Congressman Dummkopf begs for donations to a museum where Adam and Eve joyride through Eden on matching Triceratops. A comfortable upgrade from the Stegosaur model with those pain-in-the-ass seats. You pledge a U. S. Grant. Then distract yourself by contemplating love apples and fruits covered with fur. You draw a Sudoku board, filling the squares with clementines and kumquats. Savoring the way kumquat tastes in your mouth but never questioning why you keep a photograph of Dawn Wells in your wallet. On the news, a possum spent the night eating jelly donuts in an Australian cafe. When discovered by the morning crew, the sot sprawled across a bed of crullers and fritters, belching through its eyes. In Germany, Lügenpresse is proclaimed the Worst Word of the Year. The lying media. And Congressman Dimwit introduces a bill to classify cherries as berries. Another to monitor fertility by swallowing surveillance cameras. You draw a donut spoiled by a marsupial bite and a crossword puzzle impersonating a scavenger hunt. The first clue is a six-letter word for a berry that can be repealed.
I wonder at the simplicity of solving unemployment by outlawing the minimum wage. My partners nod in agreement as all of us tread water. We left our wives in the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, plying a pair of assassins from Mossad with 007 cocktails. My colleague from Indiana practices Latin conjugations as he preps his lecture to the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange on the vigor of Laffer curves and the polluting habits of trees. The Toddster chuckles as he rolls onto his back. We confab over legitimate rape and the danger of impregnating women with blow jobs. On nights like these, buck naked with my buds in holy water, I have troublesome visions of Ayn Rand in a love sandwich with Papa Smurf and the Teletubby I call Red Purse. These fantasies worry me, what with my junk hanging in the Galilee and the prodigious rut of blue puppets a perverse guardian angel on my shoulder. Tonight the Majority Leader wants to award “Catsup, the Next Vegetable” franchises to the dark side of the moon. As the Gipper said, “Facts are dumb.” He always pulls me from my funk. What I wouldn’t give for a Cuban to smoke while my posse awards lunar plots to Rupert and Rush. While four of us plan a campaign stop at the Creation Museum. Rand is swimming toward us, pushing her languid breasts through the waves. The next governor of Indiana boasts of the orphanages he intends to open, and Newt has all but patented his idea for having the sons of Ham clean school toilets during kindergarten recess. Rand climbs onto a sandbar to sing “Die Lorelie.” My wife and I have a carpe diem understanding.
“Man is the only being
Who knows he is alone.”
In childhood, we passed through the doorway behind our closet into the kingdom of lions. Now our belles wed beasts cursed without glamour or foma. Instead they kiss princes who will always remain bluebeards. We gather on the deck of cruise ships to purchase Siberian brides or Mandarin husbands as an Arctic bear guides her cubs through the polar seas toward a myth of ice floes. We gather with romance in our mouths to witness their drowning. None of us is the seventh son of a seventh son. Our hocus pocus reduced to farting and dancing in a monkey house. We must feed each other, each Deadeye Dick and Rosewater, the breakfast of champions. And unravel the Gordian knot of the cat’s cradle. The threshold to the kingdom we seek opens into the Galápagos where the wild things thrive. Where every canary has escaped from a cathouse. Where every day is Easter. Let us meet in the forest of gingerbread houses and take up the passion of wolves. Let us swear blood oaths. Should our vessel strike an iceberg in the timequake, we must build enough life rafts for us all.
“The highway is alive tonight.”
The ghost of Tom Joad wheels the last car manufactured in America into a restaurant in South Carolina. Inside he orders flapjacks and a sunny side up. His waitress, the Indigo Princess of Sugar Tit, tops off his black decaf and uses a napkin to trace her family tree to its Swamp Fox roots. She knows a guy who knows the Marine who wrestled the Jersey Devil to a standstill after his discharge from the ‘Nam. In the Levittown sleepovers encircling the Motor City, Temptation and Four Top songs crescendo and sotto voce past the abandoned homes. Joad learns “Walk Away, Renee” from Levi Stubbs. The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same. He heard too many sad songs in Indiana. East of the Little Wabash, the white squirrels of Olney leap from maple to ash as Joad cruises his automobile into Illinois twilight imagining Ma with Rose of Sharon feeding Okies in hobo camps with a stone soup mirage. Saviors without the rabbit in a hat of fishes and loaves. Near Dyersville, Buck and Shoeless Joe play shadow ball in a field of dreams. Crickets a cappella “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while a vintage Ernie Lombardi catcher’s mitt dapples the back seat of the ghost’s car. In the wilderness, Joad lights a bonfire for Burning Man. He purifies himself in a sweat lodge built above the Joshua Tree ashes of a grievous angel. Emerges garbed in black. Armed with a terrible, swift sword. A Zorro searching for one America. A nation that never was. The union we promise our brothers and sisters will one day rise.