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Rest Area

Forest fires raged in Idaho that summer when you pulled off the Interstate
east of Boise, parked, and cut the engine. Your whole body vibrated with
the churn of tires, slipstream of distance spreading like a concrete wake
behind you. The air was thick with char, sky smoke-damaged the orange-gray
of August steel town dusk. You held the wheel, didn’t you, as if afraid to
let go, watched plumes rising over ridges of evergreen hills, turned the music
off. A car door unlocked beside you. A woman stood, wary, pistol holstered
on her belt, infant strapped to the front seat, belongings piled in back. You were
faceless, weren’t you, simply part of her scan. You walked behind the buildings
for a better view of the fire; when you returned to your truck, she was gone.
You can drive for days in this country, for static-filled nights on end, plotting
the points on a graph of your restlessness – Albuquerque, Salt Lake, Reno, Yuma,
Bakersfield, Spokane, Laramie, Lincoln – assembly line of inter-
changeable destinations, miles strung between like troughs of wires.
Sometimes people stop on these highways, never get back on, hole up,
flickering, in disappeared motels to wait it out, adopt a mutt and a
TV Guide, hotplate dinners and beer cans. Not you. Because
you think you will just keep driving, follow tail lights as if Polaris,
your life held to the right of parallel yellow lines (divided, then broken),
a bird that cannot sleep, its instinct only for migration, pausing
to feed and briefly rest. When there’s no arrival, what can leaving mean?
Somewhere the mountains are being consumed; ash is falling like souls.
Jim Natal
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