Saturday, April 6, 2024



Once I finally left the island

Of Calypso the highway became an endless 

Series of off-ramps and mergings

Each exit sign an indecipherable medley

Of directional words— 

North and south, east and west

Future and past, here or now—

All mixed up in inexplicable combinations 

That made no geographical sense 

The GPS on my phone showed

Only a red dot moving along

A single black line relative to nothing else

Which is the definition 

Of going nowhere fast 

Time lysed itself from space

While space moved on to whatever comes after time  

Three minutes allegedly elapsed

According to the digital display clock

But it felt like I’d traveled to Corpus Christi 

And back and now was speeding along to Bethlehem, 

Pennsylvania, next exit straight to hell. 

When I began to tickle

The edges of rumble strips

Panic set in and I had to pull over

On the shadowed shoulder under a bridge. 

Here, it got very cold and gray

Everything solid blurred

And the blur coalesced into strange rain 

That didn’t make anything wet.

Lines and shapes wobbled 

Then briefly flickered out of sight. 

I put the car in park, then drive

Then park, then drive 

But it didn’t matter

Nothing happened. 

Neither movement nor stillness

The dashboard flickered

A sickly pale green

Like alien creatures 

Near the ocean’s floor

And it dawned on me—

This frigid shiv of fact dawned

That something awful had arrived

Am I….. dead? I remember whispering

And then thinking how foolish 

It was to question the obvious 

Excruciating truth—

That I was now dead

And this was the bardo

Of some traffic themed Underworld 

And I was really and truly dead

Which was even worse than the realization 

I have every so often 

Of knowing I will someday die.
This was it. 

It had finally happened.

Had I crashed?

Blunt force trauma?

Maybe a sudden cardiac arrest?

Nothing hurt

I felt light, almost spectral

As if my body were an optional 

Vehicle I could choose to leave 

Anytime I wanted and nothing would change

Because I was in a place where a body didn’t matter.  

In any event here I was

In the the green room of Hades

With only a few moments left

Before stepping out on stage 

For the final showing of the extinguishing void.

But all I really felt was a deep

Sense of disappointment in myself.

How stupid I had been

To die so carelessly, so soon.

Would never see my kids again

To pass on all the dumb shit I’d learned.

Elpenor after Elpenor appeared in the rearview mirror

Achilles offered to give up all his glory

For a return to the living

In exchange for covering half my weekend calls.

I ran into my mother

Who had died quietly waiting around for me 

To unexpectedly just drop by. 

She was angry too — I got it from her.

She was the one who told me to go back

That everyone was struggling

That I was loved

That I was still needed

By the living.

She’s always saying things like that

So I didn’t know what to think 

But I didn't fade all the way to black

Or at least I didn’t wait 

Around for it to happen.

When push came to shove

I opted to keep moving. 

Somehow the engine rumbled to life

And I rejoined the flow of traffic

But nothing had changed.

Exit after exit, vaguely familiar terms

Like a poem with the words out of order.

Maybe I had deluded myself

And this was the ironic hell I deserved—

An eternal highway of diverging exits 

For the man who can never decide

Where he wants to go 

Or who he wants to find

Or how he wants to be 

Always rushing this way

Or that on some everlasting quest 

Veering right, verging left

Merging and accelerating 

But never arriving

Only driving, driving 

A tree limb

Whose only purpose

Is to branch. 

I was tired of all that.

I wanted to go home

And it was the wanting

That changed everything. 

I began to think of an Ithaca—

Unlike Ulysses I had never been there

Nevertheless it felt like a return. 

Up till that moment it had existed

Solely as idea in a lockbox 

Hidden in the attics of my being 

And so it took a concentrated effort 

To cut through

The layers of obfuscation

That separate living from dying—

What it meant

Who was there

Where it was—

Things began to clarify for me.

The answers to these questions

Were how one escaped

The vengeful torments of Poseidon.

I already knew the solutions 

It was just a matter of saying them.

Home is only a word

Until you can define it

And then it becomes a place

That has always existed

A place you’ll never want to leave

Ever again.

Once that happens

Getting there is easy.

Words emerged from the blur

And I saw a sign for Ithaca

Clear as day.  

Then I saw it again

Only spelled differently 

And accelerated for it. 

Before long I began to recognize

The tree lined streets

With power lines looping 

Through awkwardly pruned branches.  

It took ten years to travel 

The quarter mile between 

Neighborhood stop signs

But every inch of it

Filled me with stifled joy.   

When I pulled into the garage

I ought to have been grateful 

But I didn’t believe it.

Hell plays tricks

Hell would have you believe

The places you have chosen 

Are all part of the elaborate deceit.

The house was empty when I entered

Just as it was when I left 

And all the lights were off.

Doubt crept in 

Terror wrapped its cold fingers

Around my thin throat 

And my heart began to pound.

Maybe it was all an illusion 

I would have to get back in the car

And continue my penitent sojourn

Through the endless night 

It wasn’t until I heard their voices

In the foyer 

Returning home

From rec league basketball practice 

That I could breathe

And know it was breathing 

That it was me breathing

Here in this real place

This house, my home  

Yes, it could be real

And just to be sure 

I turned on all the lights

And cut myself in the bathroom— 

A single superficial slice 

With a pocket knife 

Across my forearm

(All primitive religions

Require a blood sacrifice

To raise the living from the dead)

Once it flashed carmine 

The pain followed 

Like thunder after a shatter of lightning 

And sounds emerged like dirges

From the core of all alone 

As frantic footsteps

Rushed up the stairs 

To welcome me back home 


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