You hear static in the baby monitor sky. You hear crying. The white flakes shred off it. The New Year’s Eve song. The people you’ve forgotten. Everywhere. Cities, states, whole maps of missing people. On milk cartons. You’ve been sleeping on people’s porches, in unlocked cars, but now the weather has changed. You’ve stained your favorite shirt with red wine but you wear it almost every day. Your shirt is part of the scenery. You’re part of the scenery of clothes.
This is the third time Paul the Trucker has found you. The world is big. So big. Yet here you are on the road with Paul again. He has a bed for you to sleep on behind the front seats. Box upon box of coconut cupcakes that rot the teeth up into your blood. Your enamel soaking into you. Like socks full of pennies in juvenile halls. He talks in dim devices. His glasses shine a kind of blue light from all the passing machines. A whistle comes from where a tooth was. He grins too much. His boxed face. His face like a baby’s head on a grown man. His breadbasket mouth.
You’re missing food stamps now. Like blue lines on old routes that lead nowhere. A nowhere that screams like a horror movie in a theatre slept-in. You kept waking. You saw a wolf man running through woods. Howling. Saw fog that was enough to take a man in forever and never let go. Fog that would take you in like a giant, fast-food straw. And you hear Paul’s tongue clack like an oil drill. Bringing up black from the deepest. You hear it smash into a purr. As immediate as a novelty postcard. His dispenser mouth.
Split. A dumb-wild seed of God. This is what Paul tells you. That there is scripture sown into the Earth like crosses we pass. Billboards we pass. There is scripture there. Heartburn where the color of a dress you’d once seen finds you. Shaking. It fills you like the end of a broomstick. Whiter than any room you’ve ever seen. Your cheeks flush. Your forgetting cheek. The cold hand against it. The blind hands which are running their palms on the white walls inside you. Like a child riding alone on an airplane for the first time. To see his mother. His father. After a long time. And all the stewardesses are so, so kind. So kind.
Now Paul tells you about God. He says God is a warm house. Is something terrible a surgeon cuts out of you. God is back. Is getting back to something. A block you once lived on one terribly happy summer of thick hanging trees. Is the sound of someone talking in the next room. Older people. People who know better. People like God. Which really doesn’t matter where me and Paul are now. We’re sparrow-humbled. We’re that hippy girl I knew singing an old jazz song to me the night she learned she was going to die. She said see. See. While the asthma of the lawns made a wheeze sound from her window. The yellowed porcelain of the morning sky heeled into us and I think now of something I read. Women whose feet have been ruined by shoes. Shoes. Can you believe it? Human parts ruined by such tiny things. Can you believe it? Shoes.
I do. Paul does also.
He’s talking about God again. He’s talking about God in a way I didn’t even know talking could do.
He says God is the interstate’s broken ankle. Twig-thin. The gray, alligator skin of the road below us enormous, informative. Because the interstate says just as God says. In the cough syrup taste of afternoons and the jungle of black wires above us. We wait. We count Mississippi after Mississippi. Still the road says as
God says. Says breakage, doubt, and birch smell. Says like droning mosquitoes from your old life of yellow. Says atlas like embroidery. Says the pines look as white and sad as a Japanese clown. Your eyelids like paper fans. The crumpled blinking. Blinking. That engine of blinking combusting into wordless articles. The articles of your life. Like a razor against old newspaper. Cutting away and saving the white space, the borders. Just color from the funnies without the funny. Just color.
Just the interstate swallowing the truck and Paul and I whole in the snow. Into the mouth of God. God’s mouth which is a lot like some carnival tunnel of love a mechanical swan is floating on. Because after all the green water and fake hearts there is kissing. No one tells you that. That there’s kissing in the dark tunnel. When the dark happens and no one can see. There’s kissing in the dark of God’s mouth. It’s a secret. Don’t tell. Two bodies wrestling inside a mechanic swan. A double-hearted machine.
Sun-hurt. It pulls a sound from you like someone tugging a gold necklace from your throat. That cool strain and run of it against your tongue. Paul cursing the drivers. Because the road here is different than in a town. Anything can happen. Even with the gold that spills from you. Anything can be taken away. Suspicion measured in the length of a fire. From long to short. The evidence of fire is substantial. Holds weight. Fire to fire you grow like mythology. Like God. Your body somehow staying upright. Like an old barn you once saw. An old barn whose whole frame relied upon the strength of a single nail.
We stray. We’re guided by raw material. Or maybe it’s just movement. The incompletion of every action, every gesture. Or the loneliness of a standstill. Paul moves because he has nothing but the back of this gray alligator. He’s a swamp man. His heart is fine china. He must want to have some kind of tea party with God when eternity comes. Because he is shining his insides clean with dust. The brightest dust you can imagine. So bright it hurts your eyes like teeth gleaming in movies. Like leaving those movies in the middle of the afternoon after a long nap. Attic dust. A piÃ±ata of unused things. Bust me open, he says. But do it with your eyes closed.
Peel. The skin of the eyes like a patio of well-dressed people who are holding scissors to the sky. Cutting at air. Men and women cutting at the shell of the sky and getting nothing. People with money to burn. Literally. Inside the hollowed face of a statue. A gasmask kissing a gasmask.
Because God is like getting instructions on your first day of work. The cathedral of a young nipple. A blue jay or a cardinal in the snow. Make it twenty cardinals in the snow. A hundred cardinals in the snow. Because God is like that. A body thrown from a high bridge. The arms torn from a clock. Swallowed fire. The way day is no longer day. Is fathers gathered to cry alone, together, long away from their families in a desert that other deserts are afraid of. Is their memorial of beer bottles. Is wallowed God.
Paul is talking. I learn talking from Paul. The way a dead man asks for his grave to be dug. But only for digging. Only for digging and digging till the diggers forget to bury him. This is our lesson on talking. On eternity. Eternity which is like the snow asking for the warmth of the sun. Is the slow strip of a woman in a closet. Or what might as well be a closet. Is livid no. Is the profanity of the street wooing you out of the dark. Out of your bed. Is the reign of distant towns and the leather they strap into your teeth and shudder you lonely like a madman playing a piano with his hands clenched into fists. Like the callous shell of a lobster a poor couple didn’t know how to eat. Who later go to their hotel. Laughing about not knowing how to eat a lobster. Laughing. A kind of laugh like every person you never had to know but did. You knew them. Knew them like the sound of someone moving furniture around the apartment above you. Simply through movement. Whole lives lived in movement and elsewhere.Â
How a woman is getting her hair ready while her husband mows the lawn. This is a story that passes when you pass through a town. Nothing special. Maybe a first kiss. Maybe the first inclining to a kind of violence. A violence not known. Very little. Very little happens when you pass through a town but passing. But maybe in that house, on that corner, a woman is taking blue curlers from her hair. Is getting ready to make love to her husband in the same room they always make love. If they call it that. Love. Like the blue plastic that covers shirt after shirt waiting to be picked-up at a dry cleaners. Rows of blue plastic and blue walls. A place that hadn’t changed since the sixties. This is what happens to love. This hooking. This covering. So clean and precise.
Paul comes to a halt at a truck stop somewhere between an itch and an uppercut. He hates the others and the methamphetamines. The cringe readied. He sees them drinking and popping pills with hookers beside a long row of trucks and sees also the impassable shadow of God. I’ve seen them too. Seen so much out there. But prefer this version. This version of Paul and I. Paul and I and his talk of God. So this is the version I tell. Because everyone has their own version of the road and what it was like out there. How it ended. With some it ended like youth. With others a release. A long sentence served that ended in a lifetime of parole they never lived down. Because they knew, all along, there were others still locked there. Â And they carry them wherever they go. The way the readied grind their teeth into mush.
So you go on. With your paper plate sadness. With the awkward shape of you. With cut hair. You go on. You find God. He’s a spy in a soup kitchen drinking light from a Styrofoam cup. He’s with dreads, smoking. He’s blue eyes. The sort of blue that makes people stare for a long time. Like heat lightning. Like children looking out windows when they’re not allowed to go outside. Like where a stolen bicycle was. Just the night before. Like walking across the lake one winter. Across an entire lake for the first time and you go home and tell your uncle. You tell him you walked across a whole lake on your own feet like a polar bear cub and he beats the awe right out of you. Not with his belt. Your aunts. A thick, purple lashing. Like snow blowing back into the sky. Like a skinned polar bear walking up stair after stair. And stair after stair you lose another polar bear part. Because God is a story about staircases. He is a staircase which doesn’t lead to a door, or a balcony, or anything else. He leads to light. Not a light like you’re thinking. Like immaculate or pure or like you’d read in the Bible. Just a light that clears when you reach it. Clears like a lens focusing on a subject. Maybe the wrong one. But that’s between you and God. God who’s a corpse at an all-black funeral you stumbled into looking for coffee. To bum a cigarette. All these black guys in fresh suits looking at you and knowing what you were doing. So you cried. You cried like the earth’s one bad tattoo. The only one it was ashamed of.
How Paul used to say that he wanted his happiness to grow eyes. To grow eyes and a mouth and a body. He wanted his happiness to be a body living a life somewhere just so when he was sad he would know it was alive. Somewhere. And a part of it was a part of him. From him. Like a child.