Looking West Down Route 66 on a Birthday in America   

“West is West even if you’re in it.”
~Fanny Howe

They say the west is on fire.
I’ve been there, on fire I mean.
– There is no west­ –
There is always more west.
Especially headed east.
I was walking on a stitched highway,
moving like a brick
toward the rising sun,
the all-day rising highlighter sun,
the kind of sun that touches,
with its pale fire, even the alleys
with their guns and overdoses.
The western sun.
I was leaving Santa Monica
where I did my business
with Angels and Narcos,
not to be confused with Narcs,
although I’m sure
I knew some of them too.
That kind of contradiction
compelled me to leave.
I also left for the work “out there.”
Legitimate work.
The kind of work
in the kind of buildings
I’d seen pumping gray clouds
onto the Green Peace flyers
people tossed to the sidewalks.
I would be wrong if I said
I felt old, though I did feel old.
and I did move like a brick,
if you can imagine that,
through Barstow
and the Mojave desert’s
many shades of beige.
Needles was a constant mirage
on a constant horizon.
As silently as the daytime was constant
on the back of my neck
the sunlight wasn’t optimistic.
The senses were constant.
It hummed
like an insect ready to burrow
into my eardrum. Soon enough
Needles was made of matter.
I walked through it and
Seligman and on to Kingman,
moving still like a brick
but feeling more like a bullet,
tapered like the bulk of me gathered
at the bottom of me.
So, I took a break at the tracks
where I smashed a penny
and a train-hopping punk named Ty
with one missing hand
and an aluminum leg
shared his pint and asked
why I would abandon the west.
I wasn’t abandoning
the west, I was building
the west as I headed east.
Ty took me to the Route 66 Festival
In Flagstaff
where the Gravatron
spun me like a centrifuge
until my bullet shape evened out.
Later Ty taught me
how to jump a train
with a box of Franzia,
and we watched route 66
make the night into taillight tracers.
We separated in Albuquerque.
He went back
toward the blueish Rockies with her peaks.
There’s always more west.
Under sandstone dunes.
Between the cracks
in the old playas, In the monsoon
that drowns them, In the super-bloom
of golden wild-
flowers that follows. Wild-flowers
that aren’t free.
There’s more west
even past Albuquerque,
where space bends over
ownership and over
itself and over
amber waves of grain
and over other golden phrases
plucked from the American
roadside. I moved through
Amarillo where I saw two billboards
That didn’t surprise me,
“Don’t trust the liberal media”
One told me and the other
“Jesus is the answer.”
I saw the Cadillac Ranch too.
The back halves of luxury auto-
mobiles are arranged
like dominos ready to tip,
as if some sick prophet
left Easter Island
to make a uniquely American joke.
The route 66 festival caught up with me
In the Tulsa business district .
Carnival workers who looked like I felt,
bullet shaped,
trudged through the cotton candy assemblage.
The Gravatron evened me out again.
In Joplin a man without teeth drank with me.
He said he’d been everywhere.
And, “ain’t no place no different
from no other if ya ain’t got work.”
I made it to Chicago
on a summer evening
and plunked a sore foot
in Lake Michigan where
a woman on the beach told me
her kid had just left for California.
She was scared for him
“They say the west is on fire,” she said.
I told her,
“I’ve been there
On fire I mean.”

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