He never gets used to waking his mother
Sunday afternoons to tell her he’s going,
the late winter light in her bedroom weak
as her body releasing from sleep;
the sauerkraut in Ball jars buckled to the seat;
how pulling the ticket lifts the gate
at the one open toll booth on the hillside;
or the runway of that first high mile.
How it takes five minutes to run the ridge
his uncle’s meat truck worked for forty years.
The signboards wade like combines down the weedy backs
of fields, lights on, throwing white bales of gnats,
and he sees how, through the farms, the four
lanes bevel the fields like a geologic fault,
their faint boom less on farmers’ minds
than missiles falling half a world away:
though all night a weak wind rolls up the slope,
lifts the bean leaves and lights the farmers’ crop.
Although his town’s thin roads and mills
are just beyond a guardrail and down the berm,
there’s no exit back for fifty miles,
the turnpike shaping the rest of his night
the way an enlistment shapes and ends a youth.
Times he’s uncertain what pulls him north
is more than the tallowy light in a cupboard
when liquor comes on in the evening,
or the gentle addiction to solitude:
the opposite poles of home and home
canceling each other in a turnout,
its convoy of graters, tank trucks, plows
abandoned in retreat above the gamelands,
where the commonwealth’s money ends,
and wet deer run along a wire fence
seeking some way back into the darkness.