Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


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Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

John Balaban poem: After the Inauguration, 2013

                                                             Negro Church, South Carolina    Walker Evans photograph

After The Inauguration, 2013
“Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.”
Epistle to the Hebrews, 9:22
Pulling from the tunnel at Union Station, our train
shunts past D.C. offices and then crosses the rail bridge
over the tidal Potomac blooming in sweeps of sunlight.
Except for me and two young guys in suits studying
spreadsheets on their laptops, and the tattooed girl
curled asleep across two seats, and the coiffed blonde lady 
confined to her wheelchair up front next to piled luggage, 
it’s mostly black folk, some trickling home in high spirits,
bits of Inaugural bunting and patriotic ribbons
swaying from their suitcase handles on the overhead racks,
all of us riding the Carolinian south.

Further on, where it’s suddenly sailboats and gulls
on a nook of the Chesapeake, the banked-up rail bed
cuts through miles of swamped pines and cypress
as the train trundles past the odd heron stalking frogs,
or, picking up speed, clatters through open cornfields
where, for a few seconds, staring through the dirty glass,
you can spot turkeys scrabbling the stubble. Further south,
past Richmond, something like snow or frost glints off a field
and you realize it’s just been gleaned of cotton
and this is indeed the South. As if to confirm this fact
to all of us on Amtrak, some latter-day Confederate
has raised the rebel battle flag in a field of winter wheat.

At dusk, just outside of Raleigh, the train slows
and whistles three sharp calls at a crossing in Kittrell, N.C.
Along the railroad tracks, under dark cedars, lie graves
of Confederates from Petersburg’s nine-month siege, men
who survived neither battle, nor makeshift hospital
at the Kittrell Springs Hotel, long gone from the town
where our train now pauses for something up ahead.

Nearby in Oxford, in 1970, a black soldier was shot to death.
One of his killers testified: “That nigger committed suicide,
coming in here wanting to four-letter-word my daughter-in-law.”
Black vets, just back from Vietnam, set the town on fire.
Off in the night, you could see the flames from these rails
that once freighted cotton, slaves, and armies. 
                                               Now our Amtrak
speeds by, passengers chatting, or snoozing, or just looking out
as we flick on past the shut-down mills, shotgun shacks, collapsed
tobacco barns, and the evening fields with their white chapels
where “The Blood Done Sign My Name” is still sung, where
the past hovers like smoke or a train whistle’s mournful call.
                                                                                    -John Balaban
                                                     in New York Review of Books, March 19, 2015

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