Category Archives: Traveling Words

I wrote these poems recording the sights and experiences of a cross country motorcycle trip. Below are the impressions I tried to capture each time I stopped to flex stiff fingers and sore hips on the shoulders of America’s roads.

September 15, 2015

wake up to cups of
cowboy coffee

ride alongside golden-tipped long grass
lit up with sun

stop for gas in Erskine
where men stop for bottles
at the liquor store
before noon

he warned me the ride through
North Dakota
would be flat
freshly shorn fields run out under the sky
whenever the wind shoves my front wheel
into an angle
I push and pull on the handlebars
to bring the bike back up

I am counting
layers of clothes
still packed in the luggage
strapped behind me
I’m startled when
2 slender does
bound across the road

signs are
and more of
a courtesy;

stop at Devil’s Lake
for a cherry coke
that burns going down
originally known as Ble Waka Sica
Lake of the Spirits
I wonder who the spirits are

breaks my heart to learn
child sexual abuse is
on the Spirit Lake reservation

the billboards are direct
“What this town needs
is more caps and gowns.”
“God Bless Mommy
for having me.”

the land opens for
swaths of water
royal blue or silver
depending on
the sun’s influence
thick flocks of birds
take over the sky

pass Rugby:
The Geographic Center of North America

pitch my tent
next to a toad
by Mouse River
north of Towner
hear an owl
in the distance
other birds call
to one another
as evening descends

ration out water
enough for modest portions
of coffee and oatmeal
for the morning
use the rest for
a half cup of chamomile tea
brushing my teeth
is less important tonight
than it was last night

wake up at midnight
to a rainstorm.

September 14, 2015

greeted this morning by
a mama cat
crawl out of my tent to see
a party of blue jays
flitting in circles around the tree

spindly evergreens and aspens
reach up to overcast skies
chilling 60 degree weather
I have the one-lane roads
to myself
slow down to watch a black bear
amble across 65N

stop at Reinarz Station
in Mizpah
population: 57

ignore the cold burn of
tight shoulder muscles
third day without bathing
my bandaids are turning gray

splurge on a bowl of soup
in Bemidji
to warm up

spend the day
zigzagging between Chippewa reservations

return to Naytahwaush
where everyone’s car
is falling apart a little
recognize the White Earth Food Distribution Center
before I am close enough
to see the sign

land in a house full of strays
in Mahnomen
foster boys
that come over for dinner
and sometimes find a bed
grateful to walk through
this open door

he offers me a Marlboro
while we look at his R1200
in the driveway
missing headlight
from hitting a deer
it’s a bad idea to
ride in the dark
he says
turn to watch the beams of light
aimed at the night sky
from the Shooting Star Casino.

September 13, 2015

over the cracked spine of
the Iron Range
push the bike up to 100
to cut through the southeast winds of
northern Minnesota
braid dancing behind me
I am grateful for the thermals
she loaned me

can’t believe it’s been 2 years
since I’ve last driven these roads

arrive at Nett Lake
in time for dinner
chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, corn
cherry Kool-Aid and fry bread
provided by the tribe
afterward, every child sports
pink-stained teeth and
bright red lips

introduce myself to one of the Pow Wow MCs
95 dancers today
he says
they are called out in groups
by age and gender
everyone dances in
handmade regalia

the tribe gives everyone gifts
of cooking pans and butcher knives
of tools and tupperware
of slingshots and toy dart guns
for each child
and envelopes of cash
$10 for each child

everyone packs up to go
at sundown
older men
tell younger men
to help older women
carry their chairs home
they oblige without question

pitch my tent
next to the placid lake
while four cats prowl
in circles around me
face upturned to
take in the sky
on the rez, you can see all the stars.

September 11, 2015

forgot how cold
makes my bones stiff
at each joint
hard to write
hard to hold a pen
after 84 chilly miles
cutting north through Iowa on 17
flat, windy
cloud cover stretching to the horizon
I shiver whenever
the sun breaks through

I find myself wishing
I hadn’t left
my sweater
in Philly
so certain I wouldn’t need it

I wonder why
it’s so important to prove
to myself
to disavow fragility
over and over

ride through small, poor towns
where weatherworn wooden houses
splintered by winter and bleached by sun
cluster around
noisy, smelly mills and plants

nestled amid
hundreds of miles
of cornstalks
withered shades of beige and brown
and prairies
speckled with brilliant yellow flowers
free-standing houses
are folded
into enclaves of trees
to shield inhabitants
from the winds that slice over
unobstructed land
reception is impossible to maintain
on Iowa’s open plains

the first thing I see
when I enter Minnesota
is a sign for Philly cheesesteaks

grateful to land in Minneapolis
to reconnect with queer community
old friends from my last two homes
San Francisco and New York
fill my heart up
and flex my brain.

September 5, 2015

the train whistle that lulled me to sleep
wakes me up at 6
the professor eats rice pilaf
mixed into yogurt
for breakfast

cruise through Iowa
on 30
when a cop car switches on his siren
in Toledo
the pickup it’s after
takes off
my kickstand keeps sinking
into the asphalt here

leave my jacket unzipped
wind billows through my tshirt
to wrap around my torso
bugs splatter
against my sticky skin
coat buttons snap
against my collarbone

spot a group of adults
in animal costumes
on a large screen TV
a commercial for a personal injury lawyer
that looks like it was filmed
with a handheld camcorder
“that’s weird, right?”
I ask
“yes. but that’s normal around here”
says the woman at the cash register

Iowa’s heat
muggy, sweltering, sweat-inducing
strips the energy from me
stop to recuperate
in Des Moines
where the restaurants and bars
around the Capital building
are zombie-themed.

September 4, 2015

clouds hang low
over Chicago’s skyline
a city defiantly beautiful

a little boy stands
barefoot on his front porch
holding a wooden broom
in a neighborhood where
everyone sits out on front steps
to escape the heat
trapped by 4 walls

sun is brutal
high in a clear sky
keeps the temperature
above 90

a woman in Batavia
with bleached hair and sunglasses
says I am brave
in the Trader Joe’s parking lot
where the Papa John’s delivery car
peels out of it’s parking space
with someone’s 3pm pizza

race through hundreds of acres
of cornstalks
in Illinois and Iowa
when I cross the border
the Mississippi River
lays placid between them
a large “CLINTON” sign
welcomes me to Iowa

I smell the slaughterhouses
before I see the silver cylinders
every time
reminds me
of the cows inside
shitting as they die

ride straight into
a pink and purple sunset
cutting through prairie land
alongside train tracks
that glow golden

stay with another writer
from Ragdale
talk about babies and work
she’s teaching at
2 schools
committed to staying in Mt. Vernon for
2 years
says she wants to finish her
2 books
her rent is only $385
she lives across the street from
the school’s football field
there are 4 food items in her fridge
1 of them is mustard.

September 3, 2015

traffic moves
at a clip
on 94
vehicles travel
en masse
at 80
over roads
winter-cracked and patched

pass an accident
by Paw Paw
2 semis and 5 cars
one squished flat
no survivors there
everyone going west
eases up on the accelerator

two women circle my bike
at a rest stop in Michigan
both eating ice cream
off popsicle sticks
from the vending machine
they like to travel too
one says
be careful
the other says
before adding
I’m sure you are

Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive
is a stop-n-go parking lot
at rush hour
people drive
like video games
sloppy and too fast

decompress with an old friend
another writer
marvel at
how much has happened
since last year’s residency
at Ragdale.

September 2, 2015

up at 7
to pack up my tent
before anyone sees me
brush out my hair
while swigging day-old coffee
can’t believe it’s September

sticky weather
in Ohio
303 cut off
for road construction
20 stopped
by a backed-up train
no choice but to jump on 75
people drive erratically
but at least I find movement
on the interstate

covered in
dead gnats
nothing tastes better
than this slightly beat up,
slightly sour orange
I found at a gas station

it is impossible
to keep fingernails clean
on the road

arrive in Detroit
to a warm hug

lower back aches with
muscles on fire
hard to stand up straight
or bend to take off my boots
spine frozen
in a defensive riding position

with a long evening stroll
people here
cruise the city’s streets
on tripped out bicycles
blast music and holler with joy
as they pedal
I think it strange
that the “Spirit of Detroit” statue
is a white man
end the night
in a speakeasy
full of bearded men.

September 1, 2015

wake up to fog
settled in the treetops
that line Penns Creek
spend too long loitering
petting the sweet-faced tabby
no real destination tonight

the smell of wildflowers
magnifies in the late summer heat
the landscape opens up
sprawling into Amish country

some of the trees have turned red
in western Pennsylvania
“GUNS & AMMO” signs
prominently displayed along the road
I am surprised by the number
of Confederate flags flying
some people are just assholes

idle behind schoolbuses
routed along 322
children flounce off
backpacks still new and shiny
after their first day of school
they take off
running for their front doors

the woman cleaning gas pumps
in Clearfield
asks where I’m headed
tells me that’s a long way
to go alone

cross the watery Pennsylvania-Ohio border
and pull over
to figure out where to go
settle on the Willow Lake campground
count the minutes
as I race the 7:55pm sunset
find the campground closed
assemble my tent hastily, illegally
next to a barn of horses
under darkening skies
settle down
to a cream of wheat supper.

August 31, 2015

in New York
synagogue signs are plentiful
leaves are starting to fall
flashes of color along the roadside
bursting with brilliance
the way plants do
before they start dying

grateful for
the sandwich he made
I eat only what others offer
sunflower seeds, french toast, pasta, muffins

$113 left
for gas money

Swan Lake is simply gorgeous

election signs pepper the landscape
someone nicknamed “Moose”
is running for office in Bethel

brush dead bugs from my eyelashes
the wind tugs on my braid
beats on my chest
a feeling I’ve become addicted to
though it leaves my pecs sore

Pennsylvania’s roads
wind through valleys and farmland
meat production
is smelly business

pass an Amish mother
pulling two girls up Penns Creek Road
in a wobbly wagon
end the day in Coburn
to bunk down with a fat orange tabby
named after cheese.