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Interstates

by Casey Harloe




Interstates


I’m between mountains

listening to only the

acoustic versions, passing

historic towns, Paris,

& maybe bears, southward

as neon signs suggest

guess what, there’s billboards

about lake houses somewhere

& I’m on my way, at 80

an hour, my heart faster per

minute crossing bridges

together, no slowing down,

29 rest stops, Holiday Inns &

IHOPs later, until the road

is just stars & car plates

with states different than home,

I’m far from close from

the final exit, still North but

I don’t mind, perfectly fine

taking my time through

all the nothing I’m in love

 

Driving under infinite indigo galaxy

in Kentucky until it turns Tennessee,

all the way through North Carolina

until a flickering motel light. I am sleep

deprivation. I am anticipation.

Flat soda. Discount onion ring

disappointment from a 7/11.

Hope under green fluorescence.

Passing silhouettes of mountains

while the radio softly spits Sunflower

Vol. 6 for the 3rd time. I think.

At full blast, full speed ahead.

Tapping my foot on the gas to each beat

down road. Adorned with abandoned

boats. Away from the coast.

From crooked signs that say ‘hello’

or ‘welcome’ or ‘stay awhile.’ But look:

The sun rising. Sky turning friendly.

Fog slowly lifting – it’s clear

I am crossing unknown territory.

I get enamored by city construction &

busy traffic. All the quiet hours

while tourists are at breakfast.

Even in scattered showers & suburbs

that look exactly the same. There

are new strangers everywhere.

I’ll ask about their favorites. Maybe

they’ll be mine too.

 

 

There are views the outsiders don’t visit,

more than just attractions in afternoon, won’t you

 

tell me where to find them, I’m bored

of being a pretentious tourist

 

eating breakfast at overpriced places,

hotel room with a palm tree scene,

 

who goes to the coastal beaches—

sure, pure salt air & low tides, sunsets

 

& sand in my mouth is cool & nice

but I’d like to see something else, won’t you

 

show me a quiet moment, I will appreciate

the stillness of suburbia & small town life,

 

dogs being walked & four way stops, people

lazed on porches, I want to watch time pass

 

simply, I want to stand in the local grocery

line, say hi to strangers like I’ve been

 

here since the beginning, I want to sit on

a rusted swing & look up at the full moon

 

as even my own breath halts to take notice

& pay respect, it’s hidden like every airport

 

around yet exists distantly on the GPS, there are

songs about being lost & never found, isn’t that somewhere

 

nearby, I can’t sit & listen, I’m tired

of the daily mix playlists with the same

 

old music, let’s go someplace different—

to take caution for, watch my step, or not

 

& fall in love a little too much but have

no time to prepare, won’t you

 

lead me there?

 

American signage blinks exit

here now or there

next - don’t miss it don’t

please come on get off

& take a break just relax

kick it for a bit one last time

visit before never coming

back if only I could pass

it all in a moment look triumphant

with the wind in my hair

steering clear of any

hold-ups but I’m stuck

in traffic have been

will be I’m next to an

SUV with a woman

& her kids in the backseat

& want to cry I remember

how easy I could see it

now I don’t see anything

only water spots on

the windshield the memory

of rain I want to get away

from at all costs I want

to forget every pier & museum

& wooden piano bench

every small smile & minute

interaction, buying tiny

gourds at the family-owned

farm, listening to live

guitar from folding chairs

under tarpaulin & stars

but with every billboard ad

that screams don’t go yet

I relive it again from

the inside of my car with

nothing but luggage in the

passenger seat & the radio

barely playing who knows

how much longer until

I stop asking ‘am I there yet’

to no one while not moving

anywhere there is no accident

no construction or emergency

evacuation only road

only myself

The woods look like the Folklore

album cover. Low country. High rain.

Wheat fields are flooding beneath

the bridges. Behind windshield wipers

I see billboards advertising museums.

Every mile I pass. To exit now.

Remember history. Look back. At things

others forget. That you forgot.

But not me. I still recall watching you

watch a still life of wildflowers.

Painted before they wilted. &

if hey did before the artist finished,

then the memory. You said

you might hang it above the bed

if they sold copies. I told you

it’s not the same. The story that lives

between each brushstroke. Bleeds

through the canvas. I remember

how we walked away from

the pieces quietly. Lately I find myself

being a painting in motion.

Grisaille gray clouds. The

I-can-barely-see-anything. The water

falling. On my hair. On my palms

holding the air. How small I feel

in unknown coordinates. How much

I miss home enough to notice,

but not quite enough to look back.

Sometimes I still wander highways

endlessly. Burning gas to forget.

During summer storms when everything

around is a watercolor mess. Yes,

even in hazard lights & heaviness.

Even in broken branches & ruins.

Listen to me, masterpiece of a moment:

I’ll make you in awe. Give you lockjaw.

Remember the name of the artist

who got you to admire it all.

we are all witnesses here but none of us

want to remember

 

or recall, self-inflicting memory loss in order

not to pay the cost

 

of this damaging crime, causing a scene,

crashing so elegantly to an end the

 

sirens covering every sorry we tried to say

that went unheard until

 

afterward in the aftermath when nothing

mattered anymore with

 

solemn looks at the freeway we traveled

too fast down

 

left shocked among silence our mistakes

made permanent from

 

tire tracks, slipped up too much this time,

letting go, losing control 

 

of where we were & spun around

slipping away in seconds

 

remember how we glided for a moment

 

& everything was fine but we knew what

was coming

 

reaching full stop, facing the broken glass

to realize none of it

 

was fragile, there is only so much stuff

the insurance can cover, us was not one

 

some things don’t get replaced leave you

shaken & empty handed

 

I question if this was an accident or always

meant to be, just in an

 

unexpected way they say it happens often or

once in a lifetime you just never know

 

when

 

the drive back is the worst part, 75 starts to feel like nothing & the world turns slow-motion, all Lutheran churches & Nazareth hotlines, psychic readings & giant signs that claim the only way to save yourself is by realizing something is wrong when there’s not but for illogical reasons I put blind faith in football lights & parking lots & late-night talks, even fallen rocks & deer guts & crosses with sunflowers by bent-in guardrails, despite us being a last-ditch effort–a shot in the dark–an out-of-control speed car, I still hoped you would love me before the impact, before the body damage, before the silent crash by confession, I believed in you & me & crescent moons, Nulu rendezvous, Sufjan Stevens & gas station breakfasts, vending machines & road head at a rest stop exit, no destination, yet I was convinced we were meant to be more than just this, than a favorite song getting old, a green light turning yellow, Kentucky feeling like Kyoto instead of home, I spent a sad summer in Ohio, tattooed cistus stems above my elbow, broke the silence by combat boots crushing locust shells on hot pavement, by accident, like my ribs breaking into a billion bite-sized calcium fragments when you dropped me off at my front porch & said that was that, by September I headed southbound, solo, sped through mountains & silos & fatal bus crash sites, motel ice dispensers & lifeless men, swam in oceans that burned my open wounds, swallowed salt, forgot about where I came from, spelled out ‘fuck you’ 5 times in the sand with a twig, hoped to send it in a text before the tide came & took it back again, thought about soft deaths, a wine-stained wedding dress & fenced-in yard, wilted rosemary gardens & the bitterness of watching daylight savings sunsets through the water-spotted windshield of my car, thought about what it meant to leave until it’s too far gone, chasing a change of scenery mindset until I was lost at a Love’s gas station in Lafayette crying to my mom, missing birthday balloons tied to a suburban mailbox & empty plaza lots & messing around antique malls, for the longest time, I wanted to get away, far from my childhood bed & your neck, the family-owned root beer stand on weekends, so I left town, played mystery girl in the corner of arcade bars, craved attention from others, but now I am attempting existence from myself, I read Letterbox reviews on horror films to check if I can watch them without somebody else, travel cracked sidewalks & believe in neutral omens when I see you through a record shop window holding a copy of Carrie & Lowell, & I turn onto the freeway with no hard feelings, going someplace better than behind me, west, straight toward the sunset, blowing through my playlists & passing dented welcome signs & condemning billboards every square mile that tell me where I belong, into an unknown oblivion, beyond all I’ve ever known.


 

Artist Statement

These are highway poems written a couple of years ago after a trip to South Carolina. Written in a period of denial, reminiscence, and residual want. Floating around in the world with the facts. I was punctured with loneliness and a pitifully intense yearning. The interstate is a metaphor for love, how it is a road that isn’t boundless, that can result in failure and regret. Also significant for the transition of mindset/emotional headspace, which the reader can experience through their own travels with the pieces.


Casey Harloe (she/they) lives and writes as a student at the University of Cincinnati. She is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize and the Jean Chimsky Poetry Prize. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Poets.org, DIALOGIST, Belmont Review, Honey Literary, and elsewhere.

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